Nagaland State has been yearning for clean elections for some time now. The desire for honest, sincere and committed representatives has been high on the wish list. Yet, the reality is that people keep electing the same representatives during every state election. Why this contradiction between desire and reality exist?
Some weeks ago The Morung Express in their Weekly Poll asked if the public needs to insist on “clean candidates” in order for the Clean Election Campaign to be effective. Aside from the usual opinions, one respondent presented a practical suggestion. The suggestion was that, “schools should start exercising the process of democratically electing a clean and efficient leader right within the classes.”
The respondent asserted that the class monitor should not be chosen or selected by the teachers, but rather elected by the students through a democratic voting process. The candidates would be allowed to campaign, give speech and debate as part of the campaign process. And finally, the students themselves would elect their class monitor. It means after a democratic process of campaigning, the voter decides freely.
The respondent provided us with a viable option. Through the education system, it is encouraging students to engage in a civic minded activity, examine issues and model ethical behavior, Most essentially, it nurtures the self-realization that the true power is held by the people themselves through their votes.
Through classroom experiences the respondent helps us see the bigger picture of clean elections by examining present voting practices. This includes what we know about voting practices based on our experience, as well as the ethical framework needed to hold clean elections.
When we look at the general trend of how leaders are elected, people seem to be voting based on who the family, clan or village chooses. In other words, voting is based on kinship, patronage and favors. Since voting is not based on public policy and issues, or the candidate’s values of integrity, credibility and capability, the status quo remains unchallenged. This has overall implications on every aspect of a democratic system from the quality of leadership, and governance through development.
The current practice of voting itself sows seeds for future corrupt practices and nepotism. Hence, the concept of adult franchise, one person-one vote and clean elections is missing.
The suggestion to inculcate values and practices to freely determine, decide and eventually vote for the right representative from an early age is important. This is vital for electing a representative who has earned the people’s vote, and therefore, is accountable to the people. This is at the heart of a Clean Election Campaign. Unless the electorate is empowered to nominate and elect their own candidate the purpose of clean elections cannot be achieved.
The proposal to introduce values around clean elections and conscious voting at the school level is intriguing and necessary. This however is a long term undertaking through the education system. But, what we do in the meantime remains the dilemma.
If the Clean Election Campaign can educate voters on how to exercise their adult franchise based on free will, this would be a big leap forward. Providing guidelines on clean elections is essential, but educating people on the power of their vote will be a game changer.