Now must those elected representatives arise to serve with spirituality and joy, with purity of intent, with strong attraction to the fragrances of the Almighty, and well supported by the Holy Spirit. Let them raise up the banner of guidance, and as soldiers of the Company on high, let them exalt God’s Word, spread abroad His sweet savours, educate the souls of men, and promote the Most Great Peace. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i writings
There have been elections on – or campaigns preceding elections – in many parts of the world in the last few weeks. Since January there have been presidential elections in Georgia, Serbia, Trinidad and Tobago, Czech Republic, Armenia, Cyprus, Russia, Lebanon, Taiwan, Montenegro, Paraguay and, of course, Zimbabwe. And who could have failed to notice that the United States presidential election is later this year? Between now and then there will be a further five presidential elections – in Dominican Republic, Iceland, Azerbaijan, Dominica and Palau. There are parliamentary elections in heaps of places over the next few weeks s and local government elections in some parts of England on 1st May – including the election for the Mayor of London.
An election junkie – I am absolutely fascinated by elections and love the buzz of whole exercise (I know, I know – not everyone will agree with me!) – I find the idea of people voting for their own government very exciting. I try to follow as many elections as possible – OK, I will probably not follow the Palau election – but I am interested in the process. If you are too, have a look at Elections and Electoral Systems Around the World and Election Guide
But of all the elections taking place, the one that really interested me was the one that is probably even less well known internationally than the Palau election – and is very different from all of them: the election of the international governing body of the Bahá’í community, the Universal House of Justice.
That election took place on 29 April and the results were announced today. There were no nominations, no electioneering, no campaigns, no canvassing for votes. There were no political parties, no party platforms – in fact, none of the things that we have come to associate with elections.
And no one `won’ the election.
What happened was that, some time ago, all the Baha’is in each electoral unit elected, from among themselves, a delegate to the Baha’i national convention. They did this by writing down the name of the person they thought should be the delegate. The person whose name appeared most frequently on the voting papers was elected. Those delegates, last year, voted for the nine Baha’is in their country they thought should serve on their national governing council, the National Spiritual Assembly. And it is these elected individuals – and their counterparts around the world – who elected the Universal House of Justice by simply writing down the names of the nine men they each thought should serve for the next five years.
At no time was there any discussion about who should be elected, either by the electors or the wider Baha’i community. The electors kept their opinions to themselves and votes only as their conscience – and prayerful consideration of all possibilities – dictates. Voting was conducted in a prayerful, thoughtful atmosphere.
As it was for this election – the tenth to be held to elect members to the Universal House of Justice – so it is of all Baha’i elections at all levels – local (local elections take place all over the world every year on 21st April), regional and national, as well as international: the voters simply write the names of the nine individuals they wish to vote for.
And here are some other differences worthy of note:
* Candidates: individual voters are responsible for creating their own `list’ of candidates based on their observation of the personal qualities of other Baha’is (as evidenced by their personal life and service), their ability to correlate the teachings of the Baha’i Faith to society and their efforts to further the advancement of civilization
* Eligibility: there is no professional path a person must follow or political roles he or she must take before being considered worthy of election — ordinary Baha’is are eligible for election.
* Electability: the qualities of those eligible for election are not political capacities but qualities of the spirit reflected in the day to day actions of that individual; Baha’is believe that a person’s personal qualities – such as loyalty, a well-trained mind, the ability to translate spiritual values into practical activity, mature experience , selflessness, and devoted service to the community – are his or her most important electable characteristics.
* Campaigning: all Baha’is are campaigning constantly – not for themselves to be elected, but for a new world system that is just and creates unity rather than divisions. One of the features of that new world will be a more equitable and honest electoral process.
* Platform: there is only one platform – the teachings of Baha’u’llah, as interpreted by
`Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi and rolled out by the Universal House of Justice
* Voter participation: it is the responsibility of the elector to be fully informed about the character and qualities of those to be elected; it is not the role of individuals to trumpet their wonderful qualities – doing do usually disqualifies a person from being elected, in the mind of most voters.
* Voter awareness: the evidence that the voter will have about whether another person has the spiritual capacity, well-trained mind and mature experience necessary for election comes from his personal observation of others, against a background of what the Baha’i Faith teaches about the advancement of civilization, how people should behave in their personal and public lives (their rectitude of conduct) and how people relate to each other (community development, family life, etc.). This is not a question of prying into the private lives of individuals or their families – it is about getting to know people in their ordinary lives by associating with them in activities and in the usual range of human relationships.
* Voter education: training oneself to be a voter is the responsibility of every Baha’i. The voter becomes the most important person in the process, not a political party or campaign manager, because the voter, alone and without discussion with any other person, makes choices from those he or she has observed in action all through the year.
* Issues vrs. personalities: Baha’i elections are not `fought’ on issues or on personalities (they are, as you can see, not actually `fought’ at all). It is the voter’s responsibility to be actively involved in Baha’i activities, to participate in all the events and processes that make up Baha’i community life and thereby to come into contact with a large number of people. Because Baha’is consult with each other about a wide range of issues, the individual voter can, over time, become aware of the ideas of other Baha’is and can weigh up not only what another thinks about an issue but also how they may deal with it – that is, whether the person is consultative, a team player, has energy to accomplish things, etc. and the voter also will no doubt form an opinion as to whether a person is egocentric, personally ambitious, etc. – qualities that disbar someone from election.
* Issues: the `issues’ that are relevant in a Baha’i context are not defined by a political agenda but by an understanding of how the principles enunciated by Bahá’u’lláh are being worked out in the social setting globally and what the roles of the individual, the Baha’i community and the Baha’i institutions are in forwarding this., e.g. correlation of the Baha’i teachings to the current issues of the day, e.g. climate change, human rights, racism, local issues.
* Freedom of Choice: the freedom of the individual voter is not compromised at all in Baha’i elections – he or she can choose freely from all the adult Baha’is in the geographic area being served by the institution for which the elections are being held. So it is very democratic.
* Voter apathy: voters are apathetic when they cannot see the relationship between their vote and making things happen, when they do not think they will make a difference. For Baha’is, the relationship is clear. As all Baha’is, as a tenet of their faith, are engaged in service to humanity, and as voting is one form of service and election to office only but another, voter turn-out at Bahá’í elections tends to be high.
* Democracy: Most popular discussions about democracy centre on voting and the election process as whereas Baha’is see the education of the electorate as the most important part of democracy. People who are uneducated in the issues of the day, in the governance system of their country or community, in the processes and infrastructures necessary for complex governance make very poor choices, are easily misled, cannot `see with their own eyes’ and can easily be manipulated. Most countries of the world struggle with this issue.
Having said all this, I was very interested indeed to learn who, among all the Baha’i men in the world, would be elected to serve the Baha’i community in the capacity of `member of the Universal House of Justice’ for the next five years – and here are their names, in the order of votes, from highest to lowest number (I was overwhelmed and delighted to see my nephew’s name in the eighth position):
Farzam Arbab, Kiser Barnes, Peter Khan, Hooper Dunbar, Firaydoun Javaheri, Paul Lample, Payman Mohajer, Shahriar Razavi, Gustavo Correa
Truly, blessed souls have been elected. The moment I read their names, I felt a thrill of spiritual joy to know that, praised be God, persons have been raised up . . . who are servants of the Kingdom, and ready to lay down their lives for Him Who hath neither likeness nor peer. `Abdu’l-Baha
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