6.8.2  Processes for Appointing Politicians as Representatives 

(This is an archived extract from the book Patterns of Power: Edition 2)

There are good reasons why people ask others to represent them and why they delegate decision-making to politicians (6.5.1), so the processes for appointing the latter are important.  There are several problems in both democratic and authoritarian systems:

·      There is no electoral system which can ensure that people get the policies they voted for (  Some people will not be able to identify any politician to represent their interests, or they may be effectively disenfranchised by the majority in their constituency, or the policies offered in manifestos might be outvoted in coalition negotiations.

·      The selection of political candidates should be based purely on merit but, depending on the system, there is a risk of nepotism or corruption,[1] or a requirement for personal wealth.[2]  Transparent, limited financing of political parties in a democracy would reduce the power of money to influence elections (6.4.5).

·      In democratic systems it is possible to have intimidation before and during elections.[3]  It is also possible to have problems during the voting,[4] and fraud in the counting and announcement of the result.[5]

·      Problems in subsidiarity (6.6.7) make it difficult for people to understand what they are voting for in the different levels of elections in a democratic system.

·      Even though the selection process might be purely meritocratic, politicians in an authoritarian system are appointed without asking people what they want.  Those selected might further their own interests, rather than to represent the interests of the population, unless they have the wisdom to see that their stability of tenure depends upon them being sufficiently acceptable to people.

These problems can never be entirely solved, but they can be reduced by having oversight mechanisms such as electoral commissions and neutral observers.  The appointment of an independent ombudsman might provide a channel for dealing with complaints, and there are ways of making politicians accountable – as described below (

The selection of leaders is also problematic, in both democracies and dictatorships (  There is a tendency for leaders to be appointed on the basis of charisma, rather than on the other qualities required to do a good job.  In all political systems it is advantageous to set term limits for leaders (, to lessen the dangers of personality politics ( and to reduce the risk of powerful figures trying to illegally buttress their support.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014                                                 

[1] Before the 2011 overthrow of the regimes in Tunisia and Libya, for example, members of the family of the dictator in each case occupied senior positions.

[2] Political candidates are chosen by holding primary elections in America, where the possession of personal wealth gives a potential candidate a considerable advantage in buying advertising.

[3] Paul Collier and Pedro C. Vicente published a paper on Violence, Bribery, and Fraud: The Political Economy of Elections in Sub-Saharan Africa, which began by stating:

“Post-Soviet African democratization has introduced elections into contexts that often lack restraints upon the behavior of candidates, resulting in the emergence of voter intimidation, vote-buying, and ballot fraud.”

The paper analysed related literature and the specific problems in Zimbabwe in 2008, Nigeria in 2007, Angola in 2008 and Kenya in 2007; it was available in May 2014 at http://users.ox.ac.uk/~econpco/research/pdfs/ViolenceBriberyandFraudSub-Saharan.pdf.

[4] The American presidential election in 2000 encountered problems with voting machines, particularly in Florida, as widely reported.  A government report in June 2001, entitled Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election, was available in May 2014 at http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/vote2000/report/main.htm.  The executive summary of this report, at http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/vote2000/report/exesum.htm,  concluded that:

“The Commission found that the problems Florida had during the 2000 presidential election were serious and not isolated. In many cases, they were foreseeable and should have been prevented. The failure to do so resulted in an extraordinarily high and inexcusable level of disenfranchisement, with a significantly disproportionate impact on African American voters.”

[5] As The Economist reported on 12 October 2006, in an article entitled Crash and re-boot which was available in May 2014 at http://www.economist.com/node/8028608, America may not have solved such problems:

“The problem is voting machines. Not the ones with hole-punches and their chads, hanging, swinging and dimpled. Since the debacle of 2000 in Florida federal money to the tune of several billion dollars has been lavished on replacing them. Unfortunately, many have been replaced with new ones that may be even worse.”

This concern was expressed long after the allegations of electoral fraud in using the new machines during the 2004 presidential election in Ohio and Florida.  An article by Michael Keefer entitled Footprints of Electoral Fraud: The November 2 Exit Poll Scam at http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/KEE411A.html.  This article described the allegation that early exit poll data had been fed into the voter-machine counting software so that additional votes for the Republican Party could be added into the figures before the counting was complete and the result was announced.  This allegation was never proven in a court of law, but the possibility of fraud has been clearly demonstrated by his explanation of a mechanism by which it could be perpetrated without being easily detected.