Even with 50 per cent reservation for women in elections, many women are hesitant to contest elections and would do so only if the seat is reserved for women, especially in Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis. This was among the main findings of study undertaken by the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics.
“At least 80 per cent women said they had contested for elections only because there is reservation. Even as the state has made inroads into ensuring women empowerment, several issues remain. The number of years taken by a woman candidate between joining politics and contesting the first election is often less than one. This trend implies that women candidates mostly enter politics for contesting a reserved seat,’’ said key researcher Manasi Phadke of the survey, which was carried out in March and April in six districts and 12 talukas of the state in which 270 stakeholders were interviewed in order to understand the electoral dynamics as well as identify functional issues associated with Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis.
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At least 26 out of 36 districts in the state will move into election mode from November 2016. The study found that a majority of women candidates agree to male domination and feel strongly that they should get two terms so that they can settle in the political scenario, finds the study. “If women empowerment is to be truly ushered then it is necessary to seek out the true leaders amongst women. The study recommends issuing guidelines to political parties to issue at least five per cent of their tickets to women in constituencies not reserved for women, said Phadke. The research has already been submitted to the state election commission.
The other findings of the survey indicate that 25 per cent of the candidates in the sample were not matriculate, only 20 per cent of the candidates were working in local NGO or at a grassroots level and 88 per cent of the candidates contested on a party ticket while 12 per cent were independent candidates.
Of those who contested on a party ticket, 83 per cent have a history of not changing the political party in their career path and 73 per cent were candidates who contested on a reserved seat (caste and/or gender reservation). 64 per cent belonged to politically “influential” families and 57 per cent claimed that they would be able to fund the majority of the expenses personally. “Clearly, what matters in a ticket distribution exercise is party loyalty, a fit into the reservation category, dynasty backup and financial ability. Electoral merit does not seem to have much of a correlation with merit criteria such as relevant work experience or political experience,’’ said Phadke.
Of the independent candidates interviewed, only 24 per cent had contested one election whereas amongst the candidates contesting on a party ticket, at least 50 percent were contesting their first election which implies that political veterans are not necessarily favoured when it comes to ticket distribution. On the issue of reservation, 92 per cent of reserved candidates and 58 per cent of open category candidates “completely agreed” that reservation has helped in mainstreaming the weaker sections of the society. However, while there is agreement on the issue of reservation, there seems to be a lot of concern about how the reservations are structured.
Whilst the 3-tier system — Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samitis (PS) and Zilla Parishads (ZP) of local governance shows development nexus, it does not necessarily create candidate movement from lower tiers to higher tiers. Thus, the study finds that very low number of candidates move from Gram Panchayat elections to PS elections and then to ZP elections. One of the constraints on this movement is electoral expenses. It seems to be at least five times as expensive to contest a ZP election as compared to a PS election.
The study gives a number of suggestions to both the state government as well as the state election commission. These include suggestions for electoral reform, for enhancing quality of candidates as well as for training the candidates to better their performance.