The Zimbabwe Republic Police is an important stakeholder in the running of elections in Zimbabwe and it is impossible to conduct free, fair and credible polls without the police force, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has said. The electoral body said there was need to ensure effective policing of the political environment before, during and after the polls.
According to ZEC, the police should conduct their constitutional duty without fear or favour during elections for the successful maintenance of law and order.
ZEC chairperson Justice Rita Makarau said this last week while addressing senior police officers in Harare on Electoral Laws and Policing Elections in Zimbabwe ahead of the 2018 harmonised elections.
"The police are an important institution and stakeholder in the conduct of elections," she said. "It is impossible to conduct free, fair and credible elections without their involvement. The absence of a conducive electoral environment is retrogressive as it impacts negatively on fairness and inclusivity of those who seek to aspire for political office.
"The police should, therefore, conduct their constitutional duty without fear or favour during elections, for the maintenance of law and order is the cornerstone of peace, an important ingredient for democracy and development."
Justice Makarau said the general duties of the police were provided for in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Section 219. She said the broad power given to the police by the Constitution also included the mandate to investigate all the electoral offences stated in the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13].
Justice Makarau said the Electoral Act incorporated a large number of offences, which included intimidation, preventing political parties or candidates from campaigning, theft or destruction of voter identification, undue influence, bribery, impersonation, unauthorised election expenses, prohibited employment and corrupt procurement of candidate.
Other offences are betting, prohibited symbols, procuring prohibited persons to vote, obstruction of voters, preventing the holding of lawful political meetings, destruction of political posters and defacing property for political purposes.
Justice Makarau said there had been an outcry from some stakeholders that ZEC did not have the power to enforce the provisions of the code of conduct for political parties.
"I venture to make the suggestion that in the minds of the framers of the law, the enforcement mechanism is already in place," she said. "Where one breaches the code of conduct and it can be proven that they have done so, they have also committed a criminal offence and the criminal justice system must step in and enforce the law.
"Providing a parallel and separate mechanism does not only amount to duplication, but may not be the solution to the problem of political parties and candidates breaching the law."
Justice Makarau said on polling day, the police were supposed to ensure that all activities spelt out in Section 147 of the Electoral Act were not conducted within the 300-metre radius of the polling station.