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Considering Security During Elections

All over the world elections can be a flashpoint for civil unrest, demonstrations and violence. In 2018, over 50 different countries will be holding elections and these are just the ones planned in advance. There can be snap elections, or by-elections, at any time in many places. How then can individuals and organisations prepare to be safe during election periods?

Read up on the political situation.

Are elections likely to be contentious and why? Leo Tolstoy’s first line of Anna Karenina about families – “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” - could equally be applied elections. Peaceful elections are all alike but contentious elections are all contentious in their own way. Also, don’t just focus on national elections as local elections can be just as controversial with as much likelihood of violence.

Let the past be a predictor of the future.

Knowing if elections have become contentious and/or violent in the past is a good guide to how they might play out in the coming months. What has happened in the past and where has violence occurred and when? Does it occur during campaigning? At the polls? After the outcome. Knowing this will help you better prepare for the potential period of instability which could occur.

Know the political players.

If you’re not interested in politics or it’s not your own country you might be unaware of who has a stake in the election. Spend a bit of time finding out who is contesting and what they’re interested in will serve you well. Also, find out how likely they are to use, or call for, violence if they election isn’t going their way.

Develop a plan for the organisation’s (or your family’s) security during the election period.

If possible, avoid travelling to a country during elections. If you’re already in country then think through when the election period will be and how you will ensure that everyone stays safe. You might consider shutting the office/operations on the election day/s. If you’re responsible for staff ensure that any travel required isn’t unintentionally putting them into harm’s way. Make sure that staff know what to do if caught up in a demonstration, mob or riot. Make sure everyone has, and carries, an updated phone tree. Consider what you’ll do if the mobile phone networks are switched off as often happens during civil unrest.

If you’re a foreigner travelling abroad during an election:

  • Don’t get involved. Don’t wear political shirts, badges or other paraphernalia. Refrain from political comments or arguments.

  • Minimise movements on election day – consider staying home entirely. Avoid polling stations and areas where crowds would gather to protest or celebrate.

  • Ensure that someone knows where you are when you go out and when you will be back.

  • Make sure you have a hibernation kit in case you need to stay off the streets for a period of time. Enough food and water for everyone in your house for five days is a good precaution.

  • Know if your insurance covers you for injury or loss during political violence – often it does not.

If you’re a local during an election:

  • Reduce the amount you travel and plan to be home earlier (during daylight hours if possible) during the election period.

  • After you vote don’t linger at the polling stations – head home and await the outcome

  • Don’t tell others who you’re voting for

  • Avoid crowded areas

  • Stock up a bit on household supplies, food and water in case there is unrest and you can’t get out to the stores or restaurant

With any luck most of the elections of 2018 will pass without much unrest or upheaval. But, it always pays to be prepared for the uncertainty elections bring.

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