Such a scenario faces Zimbabwe today.
Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, a man accused of choking juniors into voting for President Robert Mugabe in the 2008 elections, has proposed alternative reforms that would allow police officers to continue enjoying the privilege of postal voting.
Chihuri recently wrote to the co-Ministers of Home Affairs Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone opposing electoral reforms agreed to by coalition government partners.
Part of the reforms, aimed at stemming rigging, would require police officers to vote just two days before an election, a move taken to minimise abuse of the postal voting system.
The reforms also bar the police from sitting in polling stations, a situation Chihuri says compromises security. The Attorney General’s Office is crafting a new Electoral Law Amendment Bill for tabling before parliament to effect reforms agreed to by the coalition government principals.
“Almost all of our officers would have to be granted time to go and exercise their vote in the single day provided. As to who will secure essential and strategic installations, let alone man stations, bases and posts is a mystery,” argued Chihuri is his letter asking for a revision of the reforms.
“There will be no one to attend to reports as well as no one to carry out patrols as there will be a criss-cross of police personnel traversing the length and breadth of the country to exercise their right to vote.”
Because police officers are regularly transferred, most register to vote in their home constituencies. Yet, as matter of police policy, they are deployed away from their provinces of origin, making it almost impossible for them to travel to vote and return to their bases without leaving a security void, argued Chihuri.
“This is tantamount to taking away the constitutionally provided right of suffrage from the members of the police,” said Chihuri, also arguing that banning officers from polling stations meant little reaction time in cases of skirmishes.
Commentators say Chihuri’s past has clouded his arguments, no matter how plausible.
Electoral watchdog groups such as the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) question the police boss’ sincerity to peace and security. They say his force has been fingered not only in election rigging but in cases of violence, torture and selective application of the law to tilt the electoral environment in Zanu PF and Mugabe’s favour.
A former top police officer who worked closely with Chihuri accused him of being at the forefront of election fraud in previous plebiscites.
Emmanuel Chimwanda, who has commanded the police in Harare and Masvingo provinces, said Chihuri’s proposals could still be used to rig elections if no proper security sector reforms were carried out as dictated by the global political agreement.
“In a country where there is no election fraud, nothing is wrong with the postal ballot. But is Chihuri the right person to make such proposals? Where there is smoke, there is fire,” said Chimwanda.
Chimwanda was frustrated out of the force after pursuing war veterans led by their late militant leader Chenjerai Hunzvi who had unleashed violence in Bikita to coerce villagers to vote for Zanu PF in 2001.
“It is difficult to trust Chihuri. It’s highly questionable why Chihuri wants police to be involved in the voting process. It could be part of a Zanu PF plot to rig the polls,” said Chimwanda.
Debate on elections has swelled after coalition government partners Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai hinted that polls should proceed next year to break their power sharing logjam.
Zesn chairperson Tinoziva Bere told the Zimbabwe Independent that any reforms that protected the rights of junior police officers to vote freely should be supported.
The human rights lawyer said the coalition government should clip Chihuri’s wings to close gaps that could be used to rig polls. He said the scrapping of postal voting would promote transparency.
“There have been deep concerns over how the police vote and that should change,” said Bere.
Police have come under the spotlight for intimidating Mugabe’s political opponents in a bid to keep Zanu PF in power. Human rights organisations also accuse the police of failing to take action against known Zanu PF supporters and officials who perpetrated the 2008 election violence that Tsvangirai says left over 200 of his supporters dead.
Tsvangirai’s MDC-T party still complains that the lack of security sector reforms has resulted in the police continuing to behave as an extension of Zanu PF’s militia despite the formation of the coalition government.