By Elizabeth Edison & Dr D. Dhanuraj*
Kerala has been the hot bed for a number of alleged scams and corruption for the last two years. The bar scam and solar scam continued to make headlines every day for the Malayali news reader last year. It is widely expected that there will be ramifications of these allegations on the poll scenario, especially on the incumbent UDF government, with a few of the MLAs and ministers under spotlight for corruption charges being fielded again. But with a few days for the D-day, what will be the impact of these charges and how are they likely to be contested on the battlefront? Or have they already vanished into thin air, just like any other news item?
There are several factors determining a voter’s choice during elections. Though it cannot be negated that people may choose to change their opinion at the last minute, literature on election studies affirms a few pertinent guiding factors. According to Bhavnani and Condra(2012), most often the candidates are chosen for their expected “utility”. People tend to vote for candidates who carry an aura of assurance of “getting things done”. This “utility” is bound to demand some trade- off and the voter may end up electing corrupt politicians.
As long as the benefits of voting a corrupted candidate does not outweigh the costs of it, people are likely to continue electing corrupt politicians. In this sense, there shall be little regard for the monetary costs to be encountered when greasing those palms. Given that the personally assured ‘goods and services’ are delivered by the candidate to the voter, support for the candidate in the form of a ‘vote’ is insured. This probably tops the numerous reasons why allegedly corrupt politicians are time and again voted back to power.
Another significant factor is the loyalty to ‘coethnics’ (Bhavnani & Condra, 2012). By this researchers mean voting for the candidate from the same ethnicity or community. This is widely practised all over India, and Kerala is no exception. It is no secret that several of the MLAs have enjoyed their victory with the electioneering along those community and regional lines. Here too, corruption tends to be tolerated when the candidate in question hails from one’s own community. Will even the ones allegedly most “tainted” with corruption win the 2016 elections, owing to the larger “field support” that they have developed over the decades?
Though opinions on this differ, many scholars argue that corruption tends to reduce the voter turnout. The 2011 Assembly elections in Kerala had an average voter turnout of 74.4% while it was 72.25% polling in the 2006 elections. Interestingly, in 2009- 10, there was a host of corruption allegations against the then Opposition party UDF, by the “corruption crusaders”. Concurrently, 2G scam and Common Wealth corruption charges were levelled against the Congress led- UPA at the national level. Even though a few of the Communist leaders too came under scrutiny, the Congress faced an overwhelming number of allegations in Kerala right before the elections.
Supreme Court had convicted Kerala Congress (B) leader Balakrishna Pillai for his involvement in the Idmalayar Dam construction. Highlighting this along with the ice cream sex scandal case levelled against P.K. Kunhalikutty of the Indian Union Muslim League, the LDF government tried winning over a second time. Exacerbating this was the vigilance cases filed against other Congress leaders. There were fewer corruption charges against the LDF, including the Lavlin case and the lottery scam (Ibrahim, 2011).
Contradicting expectation of people voting against corruption, the UDF came into power by virtue of the first past the post system, with a majority of mere 1 seat. This victory may have been much more of an anti- incumbency continuum which Kerala has showcased in the past 13 legislative assembly elections. Nevertheless, there is also a larger consensus on the view that people re- elect corrupt officials if the candidates’ corruption charges are outweighed by their abilities (Burlacu, 2011).
India has a history of re- electing so- called ‘corrupt’ politicians. The Election Commission may have expected to do away with that trend by making it mandatory for the candidates to provide their educational qualifications and criminal records before the elections. Moreover, the Supreme Court also held the Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act as unconstitutional in 2013. By that, those whose corruption allegations have been proven shall be disqualified from holding membership of the Houses.
However, those who are not convicted, but still are infamous for the same can contest and people tend to vote them back into power. This trend needs a retrospection as it could indicate either the lack of alternatives with a qualitative difference (Vaishnav, 2015) or that with time corruption as a crime gets less rebuke from the ‘moral’ side. Though, unlike other states, reported cases of ‘buying votes’ are minimal in Kerala, the highest cash seizure of Rs. 22.5 crore in Kerala with the elections around the corner was this time.
The extent to which the previous year’s scams and scandals shall have an impact on the Assembly elections this time remains to be seen. Since hardly anyone knows the volume of the money involved in those scandals, people may tend to brush it aside. For instance, Kerala has not seen a scam in the like of the Bofors kickbacks, which was about Rs. 64 crore, humungous for a pre- liberalised India.While the CAG reported Rs. 1,75,000 crores loss to the exchequer as a result of 2G scam, Keralites are not clear about the loss due to solar scam reported. Even the opposition failed to come up with a number in this case. It shows that generalised positioning on corruption is different from the accurate numbers and the investigated revelations. The loss to the exchequer was not talked about much due to which the accusations of corruption become just yet another part and parcel of electioneering in Kerala.
Even if it does impinge on the support for the incumbent government, it is highly unlikely to rattle the trend in many constituencies. Here the question of who were actually affected by these corruptive acts becomes important. There were no big numbers projected against the sitting government, even by the Opposition, causing such allegations to be less noticed as days pass by. Nonetheless, the contentions may influence at least some of the voters, though a significant vote share dwindling away is improbable.
The old foe, Balakrishna Pillai is with LDF and not with UDF anymore and it impugns the morality of the crusaders against corruption. The usual trend of voting against the incumbent government in all the assembly elections is also a guiding factor for the voter in Kerala. Some tend to believe that “change is vital for development” and that de facto leads to an inclination for the opposition front.From this perspective, irrespective of whether the incumbent government is corrupt, it faces this challenge. Or will the surmounting unemployment and the high rate of out migration affect the voting behaviour in Kerala this time? It would create history if the sitting government comes back to power after five years. Though, corruption is not likely to be “the” factor which brought it down.
*Elizabeth Edison is a intern at Centre for Public Policy Research
*Dr D Dhanuraj is Chairman at Centre for Public Policy Research
*Views of the authors expressed are personal.
Ibrahim, K. M. S. (2011).UDF Setback in the Kerala Assembly Election 2011.
Bhavnani, R. R. and Condra, L.N. (2012). Why people vote for corrupt politicians. Reference number: S-5004-AFG-1. E. (2011).
The Consequences of Corruption on Electoral Behaviour.
Vaishnav, M. (2015). Understanding the Indian Voter.