Posted in economics, elections, institutions, politics by jrahman on February 6, 2012

In a recent interview with the Prothom Alo, the outgoing Chief Election Commissioner of Bangladesh said that ‘it’s important to stop the flow money play in the election process’  (in Bangla: নির্বাচনে টাকা ছড়ানো বন্ধ করতে হবে। এটা আমরা পুরোপুরি নিয়ন্ত্রণ করতে পারিনি। নির্বাচনে টাকার ছড়াছড়ির বিরুদ্ধে জনমত গড়ে তুলতে হবে।).  Apparently, that’s the biggest challenge facing the Commisson.

It got me thinking.  What exactly is this টাকার খেলা (money game)?  The simplest version of the game is that the prospective candidate, or their agents, pay the voters a large sum of money just before the election, and the voters go on to vote for the biggest payer.  No, in fact there is an even simpler version, where the candidate invites the voters for a biriyani feast, and the well fed voters go on to vote for the candidate.

Ah, but how does the candidate enforce this transaction?  Voting is secret, so how do you know that after pocketing your ‘large amount’, or eating your biriyani, the voter isn’t choosing the other side?

Apparently, the moneyed candidate is well aware of this commitment problem, which is resolved by offering the prospective voter a Quran to swear on.  The idea is this — the voter takes the money with one hand, and puts the other on the Quran to promise their vote.  Of course we Bangladeshis are so honest that we would never break a promise.

That candidates (or their agents) do this seems beyond doubt.  I have been told by several parliamentary and local government candidates that this is how things are.  But it doesn’t quite make sense to my westoxified mind.