Indian voters show their ID cards. (Photo: PressTV)
For the next five weeks, over 814 million voters in India will choose representatives for India’s lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha. Given the many corruption scandals involving the current ruling party, coupled with slow economic growth and high unemployment rate, many observers say that Indians voters are hoping for change and a new leadership.
This general election, which is the largest vote ever held in India, is important because the party that wins the most seats will govern the country for the next five years and also choose the prime minister.
As a background, India’s electoral system is quite complex: it is a multiparty system with more than 50 regional parties and two major national parties. Given that local contexts and challenges are vastly different between the regions, many analysts are having difficulty predicting the outcomes.
Moreover, this elections is logistically challenging: the Election Commission of India has sent more than 10 million polling officials and security officers to carry out the elections at a staggering 930,00 polling stations.
The results are scheduled to be announced on May 16. From a viewpoint of a democratic exercise, and to set an example in a region where democracy is difficult to achieve, it will be interesting to see the results both in terms of who wins and how the logistics pan out.
Maiko Nakagaki is a Program Officer for Global Programs at CIPE.
By Shrey Goyal, 2013 CIPE Blog Competition Winner. Read the other winning blogs here.
A few months ago, the Global Corruption Barometer 2013 by Transparency International (TI) told us that 47 percent of Indians think corruption is a serious problem in our public sector, and 68 percent feel the government is ineffective against it, with most corruption perceived to exist in political parties (86 percent), police (75 percent) and parliament/legislature (65 percent). It is evident that most Indians are perturbed by the presence of corrupt practices thriving in all nooks and crannies of the public machinery.
Not only is corruption rampant in India, it’s also remarkably visible and lacking in subtlety. In fact, for most Indians, corruption has always been a way of life. To think about it, I ended up paying a bribe no less than four times last week alone, and had to disperse massive amounts in cash to bureaucrats and their peons a couple of years ago just to make sure that my new business registration does not get stuck indefinitely for no discernible reason. And I am hardly alone: A 2005 study by TI found that more than 62 percent of Indians had a first-hand experience of paying bribes or influence peddling to get jobs done in public offices successfully.
According to some estimates, India has lost a staggering $462 billion in illicit financial flows since gaining independence in 1947, and the economic burden of corruption in the last decade is estimated at INR 1,555 thousand crore ($250 billion).
Last week in Colombo, Sri Lanka, CIPE held the fourth in its series of training and networking sessions for a group of women business leaders from across South Asia, helping bring about a range of positive steps – both for national understanding and increasing economic opportunity for traditionally marginalized women.
This network includes participants from major and emerging chambers of commerce and business associations in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. CIPE also invited two additional participants for this session from Papua New Guinea, because these women are just starting the process of establishing the first ever Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry in that country and requested CIPE’s assistance.
The idea to bring together representatives from these countries — particularly given the tensions between India and Pakistan, and the history between Bangladesh and Pakistan — was not guaranteed to succeed. But after the first three meetings, the first last winter in Dhaka, the second last spring in Kathmandu, and the third last September in Lahore, it has become clear that these women business leaders have grown closer, have learned from one another, are sharing ideas and information, and are finding ways to strengthen their organizations based on best practices learned from one another.
The Colombo workshop was a productive, inspiring, and an exciting two days of learning and networking. Below are some words from the participants about their experience at CIPE’s workshop:
Posted in South Asia
Tagged Bangladesh, Bhutan, business association development, business associations, India, nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, women, women's associations
Informal businesses in rural areas are a key part of the economy in many countries, like India. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The informal sector — the unlicensed, unregistered small businesses that make up the bulk of economic life in many countries — is not all bad.
A recent article in the Economist analyzed the issue of informality in the Indian economy and drew out a range of excellent points regarding the size of the country’s informal economy and the energy and dynamism that undocumented economic activity has brought to rural India, as well as the difficulties that informality can bring. These include costs to the entrepreneurs themselves, in terms of accessing credit and problems achieving scale, among others, as well as costs to the overall economy in terms of lost tax revenue and the circulation of money outside of the financial system. Indeed, there has been no shortage of research on the challenges posed by informality around the world.
What this article gets wrong however, is its conclusion, regarding what India can do to promote the formalization of the informal sector. The author writes “The best way to speed up the process is to extend the reach of the financial system. In return for coming into the formal economy and paying taxes, firms would get access to capital.” This analysis misses an important point about informality.
Yesterday I wrote about how CIPE is helping women business leaders to break down barriers in South Asia – both barriers between countries and barriers that are keeping women out of the economic mainstream. CIPE’s third networking and training session for the heads of women’s chambers of commerce and business associations, held on September 18-20 in Lahore, Pakistan, was a resounding success, including a dinner at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce that drew the Governor of Punjab as a featured speaker.
But we also wanted to take some time to focus on the training program itself, and the results of the hard work that these women are putting in to building their organizations. There is no shortage of programs in South Asia to build links among women entrepreneurs – to encourage trade and business ties – but CIPE is focused on strengthening the capacity of the chambers and associations, both so they can better represent their members in the policy process, and help their members grow their own businesses.
Young people are pushing for systemic, democratic changes around the world through political and economic vehicles. In Cambodia last month, youth (who are frustrated with corruption of the current ruling party and the status quo) vocalized their desire for change before the national elections took place. In Sri Lanka, Youth Parliamentarians have been consulting with senior policy makers to make sure their opinions and inputs are heard. And in Jordan, young tech entrepreneurs are building a movement to reverse the controversial media censorship law through advocacy.
In this week’s Economic Reform Feature Service article, three winners from CIPE’s 2012 International Youth Essay Competition in the Social Transformation category discuss how youth entrepreneurs are helping build democratic societies. Want to make your voice heard? CIPE is accepting submissions from bloggers of all ages for our 2013 Blog Competition.