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October 16, 2021

The killing of British MP Sir David Amess has highlighted the dilemma facing politicians worldwide. How can you be an open, accessible people's representative and yet still protect your personal safety? It is timely to find out how politicians can be safe while being open to members of their constituents. Let us look at some scenarios.

In a vast country like Brazil, there are many different political realities. In remote areas like the Amazon, expect to find little or no security for the average politician. That's not to say there aren't legitimate safety concerns - with powerful economic players vying for control, threats to politicians' security aren't uncommon. But rallies are community affairs, politicians are often a familiar face - and being part of the fabric is crucial.

Down south in big cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro you're more likely to see politicians flanked by bodyguards and large entourages. Wealth here is extreme - and so are the inequalities. Richer politicians, like those in the corporate world, protect themselves.

Brazil is deeply divided politically and that has become clearer during Jair Bolsonaro's leadership. He was stabbed during his presidential campaign and has used this as a justification to liberalise gun laws.

Paradoxes abound. On a recent visit to Brasilia, I went to the presidential palace and the security felt remarkably lax. I recall thinking, if this was Downing Street, there's no way I would be walking in so casually with little more than a brief security check.

The United States
The threat of gun violence, and the pandemic, have changed the way many politicians meet constituents in the United States. Both Republicans and Democrats have been targeted in violent attacks. Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, was shot and wounded by a leftwing activist during baseball practice for a congressional team in 2017, and a Democrat, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, was gravely wounded by a gunman in 2011 at a political event outside a supermarket.

The response to the threat often falls along party lines. Some Democrats avoid big crowds in open venues or travel with security. Many conservatives carry on as before; they wade into crowds, for example, to meet supporters at shooting ranges.

By and large, Republicans promote gun rights, while Democrats push for stricter gun laws. Still, all politicians, regardless of their political background, try to find a way to mingle: it's part of their job. And they have all been uniformly horrified by the violence against colleagues, here and abroad.

The Netherlands
Snapshots of the Netherlands' prime minister freewheeling into parliament on his bike are seen to epitomise a safe, peaceful, tolerant nation. But this much-lauded liberty has recently been curtailed. A 22-year-old is in custody, suspected of plotting to assassinate Mark Rutte.

Last week, another Dutchman appeared in court, accused of posting death threats against two politicians on Facebook. And two decades ago, party-leader Pim Fortyn was assassinated by a left-wing animal rights activist.

Dutch lawmakers don't hold constituency surgeries because the Netherlands is not divided up like that, and they do not regularly attend planned and publicly advertised open forums. MPs do encounter the public but on a much more ad hoc basis. Only a select few politicians, including the anti-Islam leader, Geert Wilders, have protection.For the majority, it remains the widely held belief they are at no greater risk, simply for doing their job.

Being an MP in India - the world's largest democracy - comes with a lot of privileges. A security detail is one of them. Most MPs have at least one armed security officer assigned to them. But not all MPs get the same level. It depends on the threat perception. The federal home ministry routinely reviews the security of lawmakers who face specific threats.

State police forces also provide additional security when MPs travel to constituencies. Once again it depends on the threat perception - and also on the clout the individual has. Most MPs hold meetings in their constituencies in the presence of their entourage, which includes supporters and sometimes even private security guards.

One former leading state police officer said that having a bigger security detail often becomes a prestige issue for some MPs and ministers - and that can sometimes take the focus away from politicians who actually need better security.

There have been attacks in recent years, but they have usually been limited to ink-throwing and slapping. Delhi's chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, was slapped by a man in 2019 when out campaigning. But a number of politicians, including former PMs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, have lost their lives in violent attacks in the past.