On July 25, 2018, Pakistan will have its 13th general elections in history. Even though elections are one of the most desirable avenues through which nations express their desire for democracy, it comes with various challenges, especially in developing democracies like ours. Election contests often cause bloodshed and severe challenges for law enforcement agencies, as there are social divisions based on religion, ethnicity, cast, tribes, etc. At such times, the restoration of law and order becomes the primary challenge for security agencies around the country.Unfortunately, in Pakistan, electoral processes have been marked by irregularities and intimidation. Those who lose elections tend to complain that the process was not free and fair, thus leading to the refusal to accept results as the true outcome of the vote. After 2013 elections, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) criticised the electoral process, raised questions about their transparency and authenticity and many other parties supported the PTI’s allegations and demanded an investigation in to the election results. Security, and a conducive environment, are imperative to electoral integrity and supports in creating an atmosphere free of fear, intimidation or manipulation. Police is vested with major responsibility to maintain security. Particular duties of the police include protection of candidates, voters and election monitors, implementation of the code of conduct and maintaining law and order prior and during the polls. This, however, relies on the neutrality and professionalism of security forces.It is a standard practice in Pakistan, as in most democracies, to expect law enforcement agencies, particularly the police, to refrain from electoral processes, and only to perform their pertinent role of keeping the peace. Policing agencies are supposed to conduct their duties without any biases or prejudice towards any political party ideology or community. In addition, they should not belong to any political party nor should they promote partisan views. Usually technocrats not politicians are made part of interim setup to ensure impartiality to every person and political party. This reinforces the notion of transparent elections. However, the distressing fact is that police forces are accused of failure in almost all cases of disputed elections in immerging democracies. Ostensibly, police are perceived to be under the influence of establishment. However, in Pakistan, an interim governance setup is practiced to conduct free and fair elections, and current interim government has conducted major police and bureaucratic reshuffles to ensure free and fair elections.In disputed elections, police have time and again been accused of intimidation, unlawful arrests and detentionIn disputed elections, the police has repeatedly been accused of intimidation, unlawful arrests and detention. Worse still, accusations are directed at their refusal to provide protection and for hindering freedom of expression in exercising election-related rights, such as meetings and campaigns. Systematically, they are viewed as having a hand in influencing voters, accused of using excessive force on citizens and breach of the conventional procedures of law enforcement, particularly exercising patience while handling complaints. Indeed, elections set the most difficult challenges in the career of police officers, and form a test case regarding the commitment of governments and police institutions for upholding democratic values. There are many reasons behind police failure. Some of them are deep-rooted in the history and socio-political state of the countries and seemingly sensible, while others are a result of lack of professional ethics.Democracy and democratic societies are associated with concepts like freedom and individual rights, whereas law enforcement and policing are often associated with concepts like control, restriction and force. Practically though, maintaining the proper balance among these diverging principles is not easily achievable, especially within a society of growing democracy.In view of ensuring neutrality, unprecedented commitment is required. Time, and the necessary capacity, is needed to transform the police. Building police institutions that meet the requirements of policing in a democratic society alongside the efforts of advancing civilized political culture is indeed a predominant solution. This involves reshaping of the conception, governance, norms and management of the police forces. It also requires a delicate balancing between exercising and advancing democratic values and maintaining secure and safe societies.Police officers’ level of professionalism has significant impact on maintaining a proper balance between the principles and requirements of democratic values and duties of enforcing the law. This process can only be achieved through institutional governance in police recruitment, education, training, leadership, remuneration, appraisal and promotion.A well-motivated police force would ensure high level of professionalism, democratic values, and corresponding behavioural standards within the police forces. This also needs to be supported by normative and structural frameworks that enhance protection of police leaders and officers from direct interference and influence from political authorities.Proactive intelligence gathering by police can prevent electoral violence. For this to be achieved, strict discipline within police force would be mandatory coupled with proper leadership, supervision and close monitoring of situations ahead of and during the polls and in the post-election period.Police value system needs to be enhanced, particularly with regard to being impartial and maintaining neutrality at all times. At an individual level, the police must be bound to the rule of law, moral ethics and a personal commitment to separating self-interests from those with the highest good and benefit to citizens.Lessons learned from countries that experienced electoral violence in the recent years should be applied during the coming elections in view to avoiding pitfalls that lead to loss of life, destruction of property and retrogressive development.The writer is a Media and Communications professional and has worked in the development sector. He is currently working as the Media Relation Manager for Punjab PolicePublished in Daily Times, July 4th 2018.