Are Anticorruption Parties Doomed to Fail?: Purity, Pragmatism, and Reflections on India’s AAP

In February, I wrote a post about India’s first official anticorruption party, the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party or Common Man Party) and its landslide victory in the Delhi elections that put its leader, Arvind Kejriwal at the helm of the capital’s government. In my earlier post, I was cautiously optimistic about the potential for the AAP’s electoral success to lead to a major breakthrough in the fight against corruption in India. My optimism was based on the palpable excitement among voters, the outpouring of support for Kejriwal, and the AAP’s zealous promises to deliver on its anticorruption platform.

It’s now been a hundred days since the election results were announced. I was hoping, at this point, to do a post reviewing the AAP’s progress in instituting meaningful anticorruption reform and pushing for more fundamental changes in Indian politics. Alas, although the AAP has been getting a lot of attention in its first few months in office, it’s not for the reasons that I (or most of the AAP’s supporters) had hoped: the party has been consumed by infighting, allegations of dirty politics, and a general perception of dysfunction. And while the AAP’s struggles have been particularly dispiriting, it turns out that the general pattern is not that unusual: many anticorruption parties (ACPs), or parties with primary anticorruption platforms, have emerged all around the world in the last decade or two; these parties often gain power through strong rhetoric and popular support, but very quickly stumble, splinter, and often fail to make any real headway. So was my early optimism (and that of millions of Delhi voters) misplaced? Are ACPs, the AAP included, ultimately destined to fail as governing parties? Continue reading

The OECD Report on Corruption in Sectors: Will it Hurt the Brand?

Consequences of Corruption at the Sector Level and Implications for Economic Growth and Development is the OECD’s latest report on corruption. Released March 25, it was written at the request of G-20 governments and follows an earlier one the organization did for the G-20’s September 2013 meeting.  Whereas that report examined the impact of corruption on rates of economic growth and levels of development, this one adopts a micro perspective, analyzing the effect of corruption and suggesting ways to fight it for four sectors of national economies: i) extractive industries, ii) utilities and infrastructure, iii) health, and iv) education. Among its more striking conclusions:

  • ”independent, competent and better regulatory and law enforcement systems” are critical for combating corruption;
  • “transparency should be an integral component of all anti-corruption strategies;” and
  • “anti-corruption measures must . . . be targeted and tailored.”

Additional examples of focused, cutting edge policy recommendations can be found by clicking “Continue reading.” Continue reading

An Uncommon Victory for India’s Common Man

Indian voters signaled their distaste for corruption last year with the historic defeat of the Congress Party, but never have Indian voters spoken so overwhelmingly against corruption as in last week’s landslide victory for India’s first anticorruption party, the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party in the Delhi elections. The AAP won 67 of the 70 seats, leaving just three for the BJP (Prime Minister Modi’s party), and shutting out the Congress Party altogether. Dubbed a “political earthquake,” this win for the AAP, led by Arvind Kejriwal, is monumental for several reasons. Continue reading

India Votes against Corruption, But Not for Its Anti-Corruption Party

For perhaps the first time, Indians set aside community and religious divisions to vote against an incumbent government perceived to be corrupt. Nevertheless, the country’s new anti-corruption party performed poorly in this month’s national elections, picking up only four of the five hundred and forty-five seats in the lower house of parliament.

I have written about the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a political outfit borne out of anticorruption protests, here. I recently expressed hope that the urban, middle-class party would be able to encourage rural, low-income Indians to vote against corruption, rather than along community or religious lines.

I was partly right–but only partly. India’s vast electorate handed a resounding defeat to the corruption-plagued Congress party. Congress—the party that led India’s independence movement and has ruled the country for most of the past sixty years—won only forty-four seats, its worst showing ever. This would not have been possible if India’s voters had ignored issues like corruption and good governance.

However, AAP was unable to take advantage of this anticorruption sentiment. There are two major reasons for this. Continue reading

Will Corruption Matter to India’s Low-Income Voters?

As India’s new anti-corruption Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) jostles for votes in India’s ongoing (six-week long!) national elections, it must figure out a way to challenge entrenched voting habits and engage with low-income voters on the issue of corruption. The AAP has been described (and sometimes dismissed) as a middle-class phenomenon–a political upstart that will have difficulty connecting with the country’s many low-income voters, who have long been expected to vote along community lines. But this dismissive attitude–and the idea that anticorruption is predominantly a middle-class concern–may not be justified. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest that an anticorruption message is particularly likely to resonate with poorer voters.

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