Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Decline in number of contesting Lok Sabha candidates with criminal records

Analysis by the Times of India indicates an approximately 30 per cent decline in the count of candidates with criminal records contesting the present Lok Sabha elections as compared to the statistics for the 2004 elections. While there may be many factors responsible for this decline, it is evident that civil society efforts such as the "No Criminals in Politics" and "Jaago Re" campaigns as well as the efforts of organisations like Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch have played a significant role in mobilising public outrage regarding the criminal backgrounds of the people's representatives to put pressure on political parties not to field candidates with criminal records. This blog has previously discussed such civil society initiatives here. However, there is no scope for complacency because it is likely that at least some, if not a good number of our elected representatives this time around too will have criminal backgrounds. Civil society initiatives must not stop until we really achieve a Parliament and state legislatures with no criminals.

7 comments:

Sushant said...

I agree that criminals should not be law makers. But, just because someone has criminal cases registered against him/her, should we call them criminal. It does not look like a very liberal stance.

I think most politicians with criminal charges are responsible for it. It is often the delay in prosecution or the difficulty in getting witnesses that they walk away.

tarunabh said...

dear namita
a simpler, and perhaps fairer, way to ensure decriminalisation of the state would be to repeal the impunity provisions.

Namita Wahi said...

Dear Tarunabh,

Thanks for writing about the need for repealing the impunity provisions. I agree with you that this would certainly help the cause of decriminalisation of politics. However, I am not sure what you mean when you say that this would be a "fairer" way to ensure the decriminalisation of politics.

Sushant, as I have stated previously on this blog, I do not think that people should be debarred from contesting elections merely because they have criminal charges pending against them. That is completely antithetical to the doctrine of presumption of innocence which permeates the rule of law. Also, the Representation of People's Act provides for disqualification only upon conviction and not where criminal charges are pending against someone. The Times of India article does not make clear whether those mentioned as having a criminal record includes only those who have criminal convictions or also those who merely have charges pending against them. However, I think it is safe to assume that the total number of those mentioned in the article as having a criminal record includes a significant number of people who have actually been convicted by a criminal court.

tarunabh said...

oh 'fairer'not only than debarring the accused from contesting (a position you do not support), but also fairer than encouraging people to force political parties to stop giving tickets to non-convicted 'criminals' (a position that I think you do support). As I mentioned in my post, I think, although well-intentioned, this sort of public discourse is inimical to presumption of innocence, for surely this must be a political principle as much as a legal principle. i understand where the sense of frustration comes from, but i do think that a popular assumption that people know who the criminals are before courts have pronounced them guilty is unhealthy in a democracy.

Nick Robinson said...

Tarunabh, I just wanted to make my position clear since I got referenced on your last post. I don't think there should be any restrictions if someone has just been charged with a crime. If they are convicted I think it depends on what the offense is whether they should be debarred from holding office (I don't know what the law is on this in India). I also think that if they have served their time they should be able to run again (although you might want an exception if you were convicted for engaging in voter fraud, or perhaps if you were twice convicted).

All of that said, I don't think it's irrelevant for parties (or the public) to consider whether there are criminal charges against a candidate before they decide to field (vote for) them (I don't think you are saying this). There should be public pressure to get candidates with serious and credible criminal charges against them not to run. If nothing else it can just be distracting. In the US, Governor Spitzer had to resign after a few days because of public pressure over prostitution allegations. I think resigning was the right course. Governor Blagojevich refused to resign over corruption charges and was eventually impeached. I think that was a fair determination made by the Illinois legislature, but not one they should necessarily make in every situation. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens ran in the last election with corruption charges against him (that were later dropped) and lost (after having easily won several times before). I think it's fine that he ran and no one in his party seriously challenged him in a primary, but it probably wasn't the right political move for the party in the state to let him go unchallenged. Congressman Larry Craig from Idaho just served out his term after admitting to disorderly conduct in a men's bathroom. There was talk about maybe impeaching him, but in the end that calculation wasn't made and I think it's fine he served out his term even if it was distracting and probably did not serve the best interests of the people in his district. Congressman Mark Foley resigned after an investigation was launched into inappropriate emails he sent to male interns. That investigation was later dropped, but again I don't think it's a travesty that he resigned. In his judgment it was untenable for him to continue in his position doing a good job for his constituents. Part of the reason (the main reason), Foley and Spitzer resigned (and Blagojevich was impeached) was public pressure that arose over allegations or the opening of an investigation. I don't think that's unhealthy for a democracy.

I think what you are saying is that you don't want parties to be pressured into creating a rule that anyone with allegations against them should be disbarred. I don't think you are saying the party or the public shouldn't take into consideration these accusations at all. Maybe the No More Criminals campaign goes a bit further then this position, but mostly what I've seen them doing so far is just trying to inform constituents, the media, civil society, etc. whether a candidate has a criminal charge against them or a criminal record. I think this part of their campaign at least is very important and commendable.

Namita Wahi said...

Dear Tarunabh,

Your statement that I believe/support the forcing of political parties to stop giving tickets to non-convicted 'criminals' is based on a misunderstanding of my position. Nowhere on this blog have I stated anything to that effect. Moreover, as Nick has stated, I don't think that is the position of the "No Criminals in Politics" campaign either. They want to inform people about the criminal convictions/criminal charges pending against candidates but provision of that information is consistent with the free flow of information in a democracy. The pendency of criminal charges against a candidate may be one of many factors that a voter might consider in voting for a candidate. But it is no different from other factors like caste, ethnic and religious affiliations that often disproportionately impact voting choices. In fact, many people will decide to vote for candidates inspite of the fact that they either have criminal convictions or criminal charges pending against them. This fact is particularly evident in the case of charismatic candidates like film stars and cricketers. The "No Criminals" campaign represents an important civil society initiative that attempts to make the people's representatives more accountable and in that respect both its efforts and achievements should be applauded.

tarunabh said...

thanks both. i think i substantially agree with both your comments, and wherever i have given impressions to the contrary, I stand corrected.