Elections in India: Transparency, Accountability, and Corruption
May 14, 2014
This post was written by Ravi Duggal, Program Officer at the International Budget Partnership.
Elections are underway in the world’s largest democracy. With over 800 million voters spanning 543 political constituencies, voting will last until mid-May. And transparency and accountability are shaping up to be key issues for voters.
Turbulence in the last few years
The last two years have seen major upheaval in Indian politics and the general mood is against the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) – a centre-left coalition led by the Congress party. Many believe the UPA has underperformed. Economic growth has slowed from around 9 percent just a few years ago, to less than 5 percent last year; and flagship development programs have seen a downslide in performance due to underfunding and mismanagement.
Concerns over corruption have sparked widespread discontent. Civil society organizations (CSOs) led a countrywide anticorruption campaign that saw many people take to the streets to demand stronger laws and greater oversight. In 2013, this campaign coalesced into a new political party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP or Common Peoples Party). Running on a platform of direct democracy, citizen’s participation, and accountability, the AAP successfully competed in state elections in Delhi.
Polls, however, point to a victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There is a wave of support for its controversial leader Narendra Modi. But polling may underestimate a silent coalition of groups that feel threatened by Modi’s strong Hindu-nationalist leanings.
Transparency and citizen engagement in action
With the growing attention to open and accountable governance, and discontent over business-as-usual, what might these elections mean for efforts to increase transparency and participation around government budgeting? Thanks to new technology and increased transparency, citizens, CSOs, and the media are engaging in the election in ways not seen before in India. A wealth of information is available on prospective candidates, everything from their legislative performance to details of their personal finances. CSOs, such as PRS Legislature and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), have analyzed and publicized such publically available information, and the media has picked up on it and run stories on the more high-profile candidates.
The Election Commission (EC) also has been swamped with complaints over code of conduct violations by political campaigners. High-profile examples include Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s urging supporters to vote twice, and top leader in the BJP Amit Shah’s hate speech against Muslims.
Although elections are but one aspect of governance, and we should be cautious about overreaching, these appear to be promising signs of the willingness of both the government to make information publicly available and other stakeholders to use this information to engage more fully.
But all bark and no bite?
Unfortunately, the EC’s response to violations has so far been disappointingly lenient. Sharad Pawar, for example, was able to pass off his calls for people to vote twice as a joke and simply apologized when questioned by the EC; Amit Shah was banned from campaigning, but only in Uttar Pradesh. One might have expected — or hoped — that such exceptional violations would have resulted in cancelation of candidature.
So we are observing that while transparency, access to information, and citizen engagement is strong, appropriate actions have not been taken. And hence accountability fails. This risks creating a sense of futility and frustration among citizens who may get disenchanted with the process.
What we can expect
There remains a great deal of political fluidity, and we won’t know the final outcome until results are announced on 16 May. But there are three possible scenarios, each with different implications for budget advocacy campaigners:
- The UPA coalition returns to power: Business as usual. Guarded liberalization paired with stronger investments in social sectors. Budget advocacy would be focused on pushing for substantial increases in social sector spending to improve service delivery.
- A BJP victory: A major shift in economic and fiscal policies. We would likely see markets take centre stage, more rapid liberalization, corporations being taxed less, and reduced social spending. This will threaten many flagship development programs, which may continue but with a greater emphasis on public-private partnerships. Here budget advocates may want to shift their focus to protecting what is there and preventing the privatization of public services.
- A new coalition emerges: If a third front manages to form a government (most likely with support of the Congress party), socialist policies will be back on the agenda. Flagship development programs would be secure and probably get a further boost.
Whoever comes to power will face an electorate hungry for better governance and accountability — including accountability for how public funds are managed to meet the people’s needs and priorities. People want corruption eliminated and public services improved. Greater access to information is changing how citizens interact with government, and CSOs have shown themselves to be a political force in their own right.
Unless the new government can deliver, they may yet face people taking to the streets with their demands.
"Elect" redirects here. For other uses, see -elect and Election (disambiguation).
"Free election" redirects here. For the "free elections" of Polish kings, see Royal elections in Poland.
An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy has operated since the 17th century. Elections may fill offices in the legislature, sometimes in the executive and judiciary, and for regional and local government. This process is also used in many other private and business organizations, from clubs to voluntary associations and corporations.
The universal use of elections as a tool for selecting representatives in modern representative democracies is in contrast with the practice in the democratic archetype, ancient Athens, where the Elections were considered an oligarchic institution and most political offices were filled using sortition, also known as allotment, by which officeholders were chosen by lot.
Electoral reform describes the process of introducing fair electoral systems where they are not in place, or improving the fairness or effectiveness of existing systems. Psephology is the study of results and other statistics relating to elections (especially with a view to predicting future results).
To elect means "to choose or make a decision", and so sometimes other forms of ballot such as referendums are referred to as elections, especially in the United States.
See also: History of democracy
Elections were used as early in history as ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and throughout the Medieval period to select rulers such as the Holy Roman Emperor (see imperial election) and the pope (see papal election).
In Vedic period of India, the raja (chiefs) of a gana (a tribal organization) was apparently elected by the gana. The raja belonged to the noble Kshatriyavarna (warrior class), and was typically a son of the previous raja. However, the gana members had the final say in his elections. Even during the Sangam Period people elected their representatives by casting their votes and the ballot boxes (Usually a pot) were tied by rope and sealed. After the election the votes were taken out and counted. The Pala king Gopala (ruled c. 750s–770s CE) in early medieval Bengal was elected by a group of feudal chieftains. Such elections were quite common in contemporary societies of the region. In Chola Empire, around 920 CE, in Uthiramerur (in present-day Tamil Nadu), palm leaves were used for selecting the village committee members. The leaves, with candidate names written on them, were put inside a mud pot. To select the committee members, a young boy was asked to take out as many leaves as the number of positions available. This was known as the Kudavolai system.
The modern "election", which consists of public elections of government officials, didn't emerge until the beginning of the 17th century when the idea of representative government took hold in North America and Europe.
Questions of suffrage, especially suffrage for minority groups, have dominated the history of elections. Males, the dominate cultural group in North America and Europe, often dominated the electorate and continue to do so in many countries. Early elections in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States were dominated by landed or ruling class males. However, by 1920 all Western European and North American democracies had universal adult male suffrage (except Switzerland) and many countries began to consider women's suffrage. Despite legally mandated universal suffrage for adult males, political barriers were sometimes erected to prevent fair access to elections (See Civil Rights Movement).
The question of who may vote is a central issue in elections. The electorate does not generally include the entire population; for example, many countries prohibit those who are under the age of majority from voting, all jurisdictions require a minimum age for voting.
In Australia Aboriginal people were not given the right to vote until 1962 (see 1967 referendum entry) and in 2010 the federal government removed the rights of prisoners to vote (a large proportion of which are Aboriginal Australians).
Suffrage is typically only for citizens of the country, though further limits may be imposed.
However, in the European Union, one can vote in municipal elections if one lives in the municipality and is an EU citizen; the nationality of the country of residence is not required.
In some countries, voting is required by law; if an eligible voter does not cast a vote, he or she may be subject to punitive measures such as a fine.
A representative democracy requires a procedure to govern nomination for political office. In many cases, nomination for office is mediated through preselection processes in organized political parties.
Non-partisan systems tend to differ from partisan systems as concerns nominations. In a direct democracy, one type of non-partisan democracy, any eligible person can be nominated. In some non-partisan representative. History of elections. Although elections were used in ancient Athens, in Rome, and in the selection of popes and Holy Roman emperors, the origins of elections in the contemporary world lie in the gradual emergence of representative government in Europe and North America beginning in the 17th century. systems no nominations (or campaigning, electioneering, etc.) take place at all, with voters free to choose any person at the time of voting—with some possible exceptions such as through a minimum age requirement—in the jurisdiction. In such cases, it is not required (or even possible) that the members of the electorate be familiar with all of the eligible persons, though such systems may involve indirect elections at larger geographic levels to ensure that some first-hand familiarity among potential electees can exist at these levels (i.e., among the elected delegates).
As far as partisan systems, in some countries, only members of a particular political party can be nominated. Or, any eligible person can be nominated through a petition; thus allowing him or her to be listed.
Electoral systems are the detailed constitutional arrangements and voting systems that convert the vote into a political decision. The first step is to tally the votes, for which various vote counting systems and ballot types are used. Voting systems then determine the result on the basis of the tally. Most systems can be categorized as either proportional or majoritarian. Among the former are party-list proportional representation and additional member system. Among the latter are First Past the Post (FPP) (relative majority) and absolute majority. Many countries have growing electoral reform movements, which advocate systems such as approval voting, single transferable vote, instant runoff voting or a Condorcet method; these methods are also gaining popularity for lesser elections in some countries where more important elections still use more traditional counting methods.
While openness and accountability are usually considered cornerstones of a democratic system, the act of casting a vote and the content of a voter's ballot are usually an important exception. The secret ballot is a relatively modern development, but it is now considered crucial in most free and fair elections, as it limits the effectiveness of intimidation.
The nature of democracy is that elected officials are accountable to the people, and they must return to the voters at prescribed intervals to seek their mandate to continue in office. For that reason most democratic constitutions provide that elections are held at fixed regular intervals. In the United States, elections are held between every three and six years in most states, with exceptions such as the U.S. House of Representatives, which stands for election every two years. There is a variety of schedules, for example presidents: the President of Ireland is elected every seven years, the President of Russia and the President of Finland every six years, the President of France every five years, President of the United States every four years.
Pre-determined or fixed election dates have the advantage of fairness and predictability. However, they tend to greatly lengthen campaigns, and make dissolving the legislature (parliamentary system) more problematic if the date should happen to fall at time when dissolution is inconvenient (e.g. when war breaks out). Other states (e.g., the United Kingdom) only set maximum time in office, and the executive decides exactly when within that limit it will actually go to the polls. In practice, this means the government remains in power for close to its full term, and choose an election date it calculates to be in its best interests (unless something special happens, such as a motion of no-confidence). This calculation depends on a number of variables, such as its performance in opinion polls and the size of its majority.
Main article: Political campaign
When elections are called, politicians and their supporters attempt to influence policy by competing directly for the votes of constituents in what are called campaigns. Supporters for a campaign can be either formally organized or loosely affiliated, and frequently utilize campaign advertising. It is common for political scientists to attempt to predict elections via Political Forecasting methods.
The most expensive election campaign included US$7 billion spent on the United States presidential election, 2012 and is followed by the US$5 billion spent on the Indian general election, 2014.
Difficulties with elections
Main articles: Electoral fraud and Unfair election
In many countries with weak rule of law, the most common reason why elections do not meet international standards of being "free and fair" is interference from the incumbent government. Dictators may use the powers of the executive (police, martial law, censorship, physical implementation of the election mechanism, etc.) to remain in power despite popular opinion in favor of removal. Members of a particular faction in a legislature may use the power of the majority or supermajority (passing criminal laws, defining the electoral mechanisms including eligibility and district boundaries) to prevent the balance of power in the body from shifting to a rival faction due to an election.
Non-governmental entities can also interfere with elections, through physical force, verbal intimidation, or fraud, which can result in improper casting or counting of votes. Monitoring for and minimizing electoral fraud is also an ongoing task in countries with strong traditions of free and fair elections. Problems that prevent an election from being "free and fair" take various forms:
Lack of open political debate or an informed electorate
The electorate may be poorly informed about issues or candidates due to lack of freedom of the press, lack of objectivity in the press due to state or corporate control, and/or lack of access to news and political media. Freedom of speech may be curtailed by the state, favoring certain viewpoints or state propaganda.
Gerrymandering, exclusion of opposition candidates from eligibility for office, needlessly high restrictions on who may be a candidate, like ballot access rules, and manipulating thresholds for electoral success are some of the ways the structure of an election can be changed to favor a specific faction or candidate.
Interference with campaigns
Those in power may arrest or assassinate candidates, suppress or even criminalize campaigning, close campaign headquarters, harass or beat campaign workers, or intimidate voters with violence. Foreign electoral intervention can also occur.
Tampering with the election mechanism
This can include confusing or misleading voters about how to vote, violation of the secret ballot, ballot stuffing, tampering with voting machines, destruction of legitimately cast ballots, voter suppression, voter registration fraud, failure to validate voter residency, fraudulent tabulation of results, and use of physical force or verbal intimation at polling places.
Other examples include persuading candidates into not standing against them, such as through blackmailing, bribery, intimidation or physical violence. History of elections. Although elections were used in ancient Athens, in Rome, and in the selection of popes and Holy Roman emperors, the origins of elections in the contemporary world lie in the gradual emergence of representative government in Europe and North America beginning in the 17th century.
- Arrow, Kenneth J. 1963. Social Choice and Individual Values. 2nd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Benoit, Jean-Pierre and Lewis A. Kornhauser. 1994. "Social Choice in a Representative Democracy." American Political Science Review 88.1: 185–192.
- Corrado Maria, Daclon. 2004. US elections and war on terrorism – Interview with professor Massimo Teodori Analisi Difesa, n. 50
- Farquharson, Robin. 1969. A Theory of Voting. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Mueller, Dennis C. 1996. Constitutional Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Owen, Bernard, 2002. "Le système électoral et son effet sur la représentation parlementaire des partis: le cas européen.", LGDJ;
- Riker, William. 1980. Liberalism Against Populism: A Confrontation Between the Theory of Democracy and the Theory of Social Choice. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
- Thompson, Dennis F. 2004. Just Elections: Creating a Fair Electoral Process in the U.S. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226797649
- Ware, Alan. 1987. Citizens, Parties and the State. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
|Look up election in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Election|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Elections.|
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