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

Why Rational Anticorruption Voters Might Not Support the Anticorruption Candidate

As some readers of this blog are likely aware, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout is challenging the Andrew Cuomo, New York’s incumbent governor, in the state’s Democratic primary, to be held tomorrow. One of her main campaign themes is corruption: Her campaign emphasizes corruption in the Cuomo administration both in the narrow sense of raising concerns about unethical and possibly unlawful conduct in New York state government (as well as Governor Cuomo’s controversial decision to disband the Moreland Commission, which had been looking into these issues), and also “corruption” in the broader sense of excessive influence of wealthy interests and the distorting effect this has on politics. Teachout herself concedes that if she wins it would be the “upset of the century,” and indeed most political prognosticators give her virtually no chance of winning. Why not?

It’s true, of course, that Teachout has no prior experience in electoral politics and is up against a savvy and well-funded incumbent. But there’s a bigger problem for her — and for any insurgent anticorruption candidate or party — that derives from the nature of the U.S. electoral system that Nobel Laureate Roger Myerson identified over two decades ago in a technical game theory paper on how electoral institutions affect the success or failure of insurgent anticorruption candidates. Although Myerson’s analysis does not correspond perfectly to the New York primary (for reasons I will explain in a moment), it is nonetheless enlightening–not only for the challenges faced by Teachout, but for anticorruption parties more generally. Continue reading

Lessons from Europe for India’s Anticorruption Party

Last December, a year-old political party formed by anticorruption activists came to power in India’s capital, after a startling debut performance in Delhi’s local assembly elections. Within days, the new government, led by a former tax man named Arvind Kejriwal, announced a series of anti-graft investigations. Only 49 days into its term, however, Kejriwal and his colleagues resigned, ostensibly because their minority government could not push through an anticorruption bill. The party now has its eyes set on India’s parliamentary elections, set to occur this May.

Much has been written about India’s mercurial Aam Aadmi (“Common Man”) Party (AAP): its origins, its dedicated volunteers, its transparent campaign finance procedures, its vague policies regarding anything but corruption, and its missteps (some of which Russel Stamets discusses in a useful recent post on the FCPA Blog). Despite this, there has been little discussion regarding AAP’s place as a single-issue party in India’s deeply fractured political landscape, and little attempt to draw lessons from the successes and failures of anticorruption parties in other parts of the world.  Yet the experience of anticorruption parties in Central and Eastern Europe–as documented and analyzed by Andreas Bågenholm –offers both hope and important lessons to AAP and its supporters. Continue reading