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.
The Delhi Legislative Assembly election was held on 4 December 2013, with the result announced on 8 December resulting in formation of the Fifth Legislative Assembly of Delhi.
The Bharatiya Janata Party won a plurality, closely followed by Aam Aadmi Party, in its first election; this resulted in an hung assembly. After the BJP refused to form a government in the hung assembly, the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal became chief minister with "unconditional" support from the Indian National Congress (INC).
Electoral law change
This was one of the first five elections in which the Election Commission of India implemented a "None of the above" (NOTA) voting option, allowing the electorate to register a neutral vote but not to outright reject candidates. In a first, the Election Commission of India also appointed Central Awareness Observers, whose main task was to oversee voter awareness and facilitation.
There were 810 candidates running for office, including 224 independents.
BJP and SAD formed a pre-poll alliance; SAD contested four seats (Hari Nagar, Rajouri Garden, Kalkaji and Shahdara), while BJP contested the rest.
The AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal called the BJP's Harsh Vardhan the "Manmohan Singh of the BJP" as incapable of stemming the "rot" in Delhi's governance. He added: "We will help the people of Delhi get rid of Congress misgovernance first, and then ensure change at the national level in the Lok Sabha polls." However, Vardhan was supported by the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in the Indian general election, 2014, Narendra Modi. The Hindustan Times suggested that the Rajnath Singh-appointed BJP Delhi leader, Vijay Goel, though organisationally competent, lost favour due to his exclusion of established regional leaders in reorganising local units. Singh was still viewed as reluctant to "change horses in mid-stream" but agreed. Modi led the charge, with other party leaders, to have Vardhan as the chief ministerial candidate and Goel himself agreed to the nomination of Vardhan. The AAP released its first electoral manifesto.
Number of seats
|AAP-Cicero||30 November 2013||38-50||11-17||8-14||0-13|||
|BJP (Internal)||November 2013||5||36||11||-||18 "swing seats where the readings were too close to call"|
|India TV-CVoter||November 2013||10||29||27||4|||
|India Today, ORG||November 2013||6||36||22||4|||
|Times Now, C-Voter||November 2013||18||25||24||3|||
|CNN-IBN, The Week and CSDS||October 2013||19-25||22-28||19-25||0-2|||
|ABP News-AC Nielsen||October 2013||18||28||22||2|||
|India TV-CVoter-Times Now||September 2013||7||30||29||4|||
|Hindustan Times-C Fore||September 2013||7-12||22-27||32-37||0-4|||
|AAP-Cicero||30 November 2013||36%||27%||26%||11%|||
|India TV-CVoter||November 2013||24%||33%||30%||13%|||
|CNN-IBN, The Week and CSDS||October 2013||28%||29%||27%||16%|||
|ABP News-AC Nielsen||September 2013||15%||34%||29%||22%|||
|India TV-CVoter-Times Now||September 2013||16%||38%||34%||12%|||
|Hindustan Times-C Fore||September 2013||20%||32%||34%||14%|||
There were 11,753 polling stations, including the presence of EVMs, while 630 identified as critical and hyper critical. There were 11.9 million eligible voters, of which 6.6 million were men and 5.3 million were women while there were 405,000 first time voters. 32,801 Delhi Police personnel and 107 companies of central paramilitary forces were deployed to ensure a peaceful election. Polling stations opened at 8:00 am and turnout was 66%.
Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) along with EVMs was used in 1 assembly seat in Delhi elections-New Delhi. Polling stations in Tuglaqabad, Karol Bagh, Trilokpuri and Badarpur reportedly had long waits because EVMs dysfunctioned. In Jungpura, Badli, Krishna Nagar and Kondli constituencies, some voters complained that their names were on the electoral rolls and that they could not vote.
After voting party leaders expressed their opinion. Kejriwal said he is confident of a positive result for his party. Vardhan claimed the BJP was "far ahead" of the INC and Aam Aadmi Party. "I can tell you very categorically that we are far ahead of Congress and the new entrant in Delhi politics. I am 100 per cent confident about our victory. I think nobody can make any dent in our vote bank. If there is any contest or fight, it is between the Congress and the new entrant (for the second place)." Dikshit said she had her "fingers crossed" on the outcome, while national party leader Sonia Gandhi said from her Nirman Bhavan polling station: "We will win." At many places people with disabilities could not vote due to inaccessible polling booths.
In all over 43,000 postal ballots were received, an increase from the last election's 1,600 postal ballots. The Delhi Election Commission announced that 2,000 Central Paramilitary Force and Delhi Police personnel were at the vote counting centres in the city on the day of the result announcement and CCTV cameras and live streaming of proceedings through web casting, two layers of security cover have been set at all the 14 counting centres. Delhi Chief Electoral officer Vijay Dev said: "Paramilitary force forms the inner circle of security of centres while adequate numbers of Delhi Police personnel will ensure safety from outside. Counting of votes will start from 8 AM tomorrow and during the first hour postal ballots will be counted." The postal ballots were counted before the EVM votes.
Exit polls showed the BJP in the lead to possibly form a government on its own, followed by the AAP and the incumbent INC in third place; others in general were fourth with the BSP following.
Notably, the INC's Chaudhary Prem Singh lost in the Ambedkar Nagar constituency, he held the seat since 1993 and had not lost a single election in 50 years; however Ashok Kumar of the AAP won the seat. Incumbent Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit lost her New Delhi constituency seat to AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal by a margin that was double her total votes and was also less than 500 votes more than the BJP's Vijender Kumar; she then submitted her resignation to Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung.
| % of|
|Votes||Vote %||Change in|
|Bharatiya Janata Party||66||31||8||44.29||26,04,100||33.07||3|
|Aam Aadmi Party||69||28||New||40.0||23,22,330||29.49||New|
|Indian National Congress||70||8||35||11.43||19,32,933||24.55||15|
|Janata Dal (United)||27||1||1||1.43||68,818||0.87||New|
|Shiromani Akali Dal||4||1||1||1.42||71,757||1||N/A|
Former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said: "We accept our defeat and we will analyse what went wrong. We respect what the people of Delhi have decided and thank them for supporting us for last 15 years."
As no party won a majority of the 70 seats in the assembly, if the necessary coalition government is not possible, Delhi would be put under president's rule until a new election is held within six months. However, the INC, BJP and AAP have all said they would not seek alliances with each other. The other option was to try to bring in independents; though since there are not enough, the media speculated that the other option would be lure away MLAs from another party (the AAP being the most likely in their analysis).
As the BJP won 31 seats, while its alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal won one seat, they gained a plurality and would have the first right to form a new government. However, they declined the offer from Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung to form a new government citing an inability to obtain majority. Jung then invited the Aam Aadmi Party to form the government. Kejriwal wrote to BJP national leader Rajnath Singh and INC national leader Sonia Gandhi for clarification on 18 issues before seeking their support in forming a coalition.
On 9 December, Leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley wrote a blog suggesting that Congress should support AAP to form government in Delhi. The BJP did not reply and the INC agreed to 16 of the 18 issues and offered its outside support. On 14 December, BJP Chief Ministerial candidate Dr. Harsh Vardhan asked AAP to take congress support and form the government. The AAP then sought public opinion through a variety of mediums such as via community meetings, text messages and pamphlets about whether or not it should take the support of the INC. AAP then formed a minority government with outside support from the INC. In a letter to the Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung, the AAP did not however mention that it has the support of the INC. Jung then sent his recommendations to PresidentPranab Mukherjee. Kejriwal was then sworn in as 7th Chief Minister of Delhi on 28 December, leading the youngest cabinet in Delhi ever.M. S. Dhir was elected as the speaker of the legislative assembly on 3 January 2014.
Amongst its first tasks, the AAP initiated a corruption response mechanism in a "durbar"; it also retracted the FDI in multi-brand retail that the previous government had sanctioned. Kejriwal said that though this would give consumers more options it has been shown that it "leads to loss of jobs to a very large extent. There is huge unemployment in Delhi and AAP government does not wish to increase this unemployment. Delhi is not prepared for FDI." Yet he added that he was not against FDI by itself but that it needed to occur on a case-by-case basis.
After 49 days, Kejriwal resigned as a chief minister following the failure of the introduction of Delhi's Jan Lokpal Bill in the assembly on 14 February 2014. President's rule was then imposed and the assembly was kept in suspended animation.Fresh elections were scheduled for early 2015.
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Aam Aadmi Party
Indian National Congress