An extravagant nomination process?
Willingness to invest a significant amount of money to secure party nomination plays a significant role
The race for nominations for the upcoming general elections is fast coming to a close, setting to rest expectations of thousands of applicants after much drama. The two major parties have mostly concluded their nominations, leaving crumbs for their sidekick parties.
Hopefully, the sidekick parties will also complete their nominations without adding any more to the nomination drama. However, the real drama of nomination has not been who gets the nomination, but how much money each hopeful spent to secure the nomination.
I do not know what criteria the parties followed in selecting their nominees, besides party affiliation and the length of past association with the party.
But reports so far derived from the social media suggest that the wealth of the nominee, and willingness to put up a substantial amount of money to secure the party nomination, have played a significant role in applying for nominations.
These are undocumented, but if only a fraction of what is reported on social media is true, we are now in the process of establishing a plutocracy.
Imagine a legislature where a great majority of the new entrants spent a substantial portion of their wealth first to secure the nomination, and then to get elected.
Nomination expenses and thereafter election expenses are not donations by these individuals made to the party coffers or national exchequer.
These are investments made by shrewd or greedy business people — they will expect ten times the return from the office they will hold.
Without the faith that a crore spent for nomination is 10 from the office, no one will be willing to spend any money for their election campaign, let alone for nomination.
It is cynical to have such a view of the process, but the reality is such that election to any office in the country today is dominated by money, and hence only people who can amass money can compete.
Since we do not have a system where there is government regulation of the nomination process (the role of the Election Commission is vague here), there is no bar on the parties raising enormous funds in this process.
Since there is no transparency in how much a nomination seeker can or should spend in the process, speculations are rife on the amount spent by the applicant.
The nomination costs differ on the relative strength of the party in a constituency, and its hypothetical ability to win a particular seat.
More probability of winning the seat, the higher the cost.
In party-based elections, it is normal for the hopefuls to seek support of the party of their choice, either based on some political or ideological affinity, or the assessment by the individual of the relative strength of the party. The party gets to decide, however, who gets the ticket.
The nomination process is simple.
The applicants go through a validation process that may include background checks, and popularity of the candidate in the constituency.
In the US, the decision is left with voters themselves in each constituency where the popularity or acceptability is determined by selection from a set of candidates through voting.
In Britain, the two major parties use a National Parliamentary Panel that is charged with assessment of the candidates seeking party nomination of their speaking skills, working with others, and in some cases, asking the voters in the constituency to express their preference of the candidates by voting.
Both major parties, as well as the smaller ones, tend to listen to their party workers and the constituents before giving the final approval of each candidate.
The way a democracy works is by listening to people, and by adhering to their likes and dislikes. A member of parliament is elected for a number of years, and he or she cannot be removed until the next election.
The members represent their constituencies and are supposed to work as their spokesperson.
Unfortunately, the pattern of nomination followed in our country for past elections is anything but democratic, since the process does not seem to involve the people of the area that a nominee claims to represent.
But for this, the nomination seeker is not to blame. It is the process that is to blame. The nomination seeker just throws in the money and hopes for a favourable result.
It is difficult to do away with a deep-rooted culture of “money buys all” in our politics, because it is the reality. People with election ambitions know that to win a political party’s ticket, that too of a heavyweight party, they have to have substantial buying power to influence the nomination process.
They also know that there is little government oversight of the nomination process, which is left with each political party and therefore, they succumb to the system if they have political ambitions.
The cycle is repeated every election season.
But there could be some reform if the government wants. These could be in the form of endorsements of each applicant from the local party office, putting a cap on nomination fees, and by having election commission oversight of the nomination process and final publication of nominees.
Additionally, the parties could involve the constituencies in the process by inviting their opinion.
Even with these changes (which may never happen), the culture of buying influence will not go away, because money is the ultimate source of power everywhere.
But involving people in the process from the beginning will at least give democracy a chance.
Ziauddin Choudhury has worked in the higher civil service of Bangladesh early in his career, and later for the World Bank in the US.