Last week Baha’i communities held their electoral unit conventions to pick who would represent them in the election of the National Spiritual Assembly. These chosen delegates will represent their communities at Ridvan when they will in turn elect 9 members from all of the eligible Baha’is in their country to the NSA.
The unit convention and the national convention are not only important components of the Baha’i election system but also play a vital role in Baha’i administration. It is here that Baha’is have a chance to come together as a locality and as a nation to discuss and consult on important matters.
It is also here that much drama has unfolded in the past. For example, it was at a national convention when the Dialogue magazine and its editors were denounced:
Although the editors and staff cooperated with the often cumbersome review process, the magazine was viewed with great suspicion by the National Spiritual Assembly. At the 1988 National Convention, when delegates from around the country gathered to elect the next year’s Assembly, External Affairs Secretary Firuz Kazemzadeh denounced a particular article slated for publication called A Modest Proposal and described those involved with the magazine as “dissidents”. Faced with such hostility, and with their reputation thus ruined in the eyes of the community, the editors stopped publication. Several of those involved in the L.A. study group and Dialogue magazine were later active participants on the Talisman forum.
What should be of concern is the anemic participation in the unit conventions. Looking around at the numbers, the percentage of votes cast in each unit convention is shockingly low. I realize that all Baha’i communities, especially large ones, are beset by this same problem. Participation in the fund, feast, Ruhi, etc. is but a fraction of the complete membership on the rolls. Such non-interaction and non-involvement with the community is a major sign of something terribly wrong.
So participation in elections can be argued to be just another symptoms along with the rest. But I would argue that elections are vital as they can be pivotal to the course the community takes. First, we must wake up to the fact that low participation rates is dangerous. Not surprisingly, with such a low turnout, the same handful of candidates are almost always chosen. Second, we must begin to take serious action to remedy the root causes of this.
I’m curious what your community’s participation rate was. It is clearly reported, along with all detailed statistics such as number of votes, spoilt ballots, etc. in the unit convention report. Usually it is reported immediately after the convention so if you haven’t received it, ask around. And drop a comment below to let us know if your community is having better luck at this and also if it is a small, medium or large size.
So far, from the data I’m seeing, participation rates are averaging 34-18%. This is inline with participation rates for fund contributions and LSA elections.
Let us know what you think. Do you think this is a serious problem that must be addressed? or do you think that there is nothing wrong with such a rate?