Baha'i democratic structure

iBrian

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Something I've always been curious about, since it was mentioned a very long time ago on these boards, is the voting system used for electing representatives of the Baha'i faith.

It would certainly be interesting to know more about it - please do feel free to post any relevant links, and once I've looked at those, I'll ask any further questions that come to mind. :)
 
Greetings!

Baha'i elections are democratic, with each adult believer able to vote, typically for nine-member administrative bodies.

Nominations, campaigning, and discussion of individual personalities (as contrasted with desired qualities for all those elected) are forbidden (and indeed, probably the best way NOT to get elected is to appear to be "trying to get elected."

When electing one of these administrative bodies, each Baha'i votes (by written secret ballot) for the nine Baha'is he or she feels are best qualified to serve. Those receiving the most votes are elected.

No one can either "run for office" or, once elected, refuse to serve except in cases of hardship--which removes the politicking from Baha'i elections.

Local spiritual assemblies are elected directly.

There's an annual convention each fall at which each region elects a delegate to the spring National Convention; these delegates elect the nine-member National Spiritual Assembly from among the entire Baha'i population of that nation.

And every five years, the National Spiritual Assembly members meet and the World Convention in Haifa, Israel to elect the nine-member Universal House of Justice, our supreme administrative body (which obviously serves for the next five years).

That's the summary; further questions are most welcome! :)

Bruce
 
Brian,

Thanks for starting this thread on "democratic" structure of the Baha'i Faith..

I agree with the above summary above provided by Bruce... So our elections are held annually from the local to the national levels in countries where we are recognized by civil authorities and every five years delegates from the National Spiritual Assemblies gather and elect the Universal House of Justice which sits on Mount Carmel in Haifa Israel.

Locally my community just elected a Spiritual Assembly a few weeks ago on April 20th which is our Ridvan season... We elected our forty first Spiritual Assembly sdince 1973.

Each local Assembly is responsible for Baha'i activities in it's jurisdiction ... and there can only be one Assembly in a given jurisdiction... so all the Baha'is are involved in a given community.

Since there is no clerical or ecclesiastic authority the Assembly has the responsibility to deal with issues of that community.
 
Arthra -- it is not necessary for the civil authorities to recognise the Bahai communities. It works the other way around: the Bahais form their local and national Assemblies, and if the laws of the state allow it, the Assemblies then incorporate and seek other forms of legal recognition.
 
Many thanks for the replies. :)

So, just to clarify - see if I've got this right ...

There are local worship groups - each local group has 9 elected representatives.

Each country has a national body, made of up a team of 9 representatives, who are elected by a meeting of all local groups.

Each selection of 9 national representative meet every 5 years to elect 9 international leaders.

Is that correct?

A curious question - if there is no campaigning, then how would the local representatives be aware of the qualities of people to elect as national candidates? Similar with the 9 international leaders? Is it that there are special Baha'i publications - newspapers, or magazines, for example, where persons can become known for their work, which might otherwise recommend them?
 
Pretty close, but the local bodies (Local Spiritual Assemblies) do not directly elect the National Spiritual Assembly. Rather, local communities elect one, two or sometimes three delegates, according to the number of Bahais in the area, and the delegates go to a national convention, where stuff is discussed and the National Spiritual Assembly is elected.

However, all the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies are delegates to the international convention, which at present is held every five years.

Because there is no campaigning and no candidates, the incumbent members are almost always re-elected. Turnover is largely a matter of sitting members who indicate they cannot continue. But there are times when a national community gets seriously pissed off: in one case six incumbents were not re-elected, and the incoming National Assembly sanctioned one of the three who were re-elected (for misapplication of funds), so that NSA ended up with seven new members. When a member cannot continue serving, or when the delegates are so annoyed with the NSA that most of them decide not to vote for the incumbents, the selection of replacements is almost random, since the pool of people who could be elected is very wide. (This is why it takes major dissatisfaction to cause an electoral upset).

Having said that, there are times when an individual emerges who is so evidently capable that he or she gets elected, even over one of the incumbents. But it's rare.

This is rather different to the logic of civil elections, or even elections to the board of a civil society organisation. The focus is not on obtaining the highest quality of members, but rather on the potential of members -- any members -- to achieve good decisions by consulting together. In fact, before the voting system was introduced, Baha'u'llah provided a decision-making method that started with drawing nine names out of a hat (or turban?). His faith really lay in the combination of consultation and reason, rather than in finding outstanding individuals.

It's rather different in the case of the election of the Universal House of Justice, because in 1973 (if memory serves me, but it's hard to get decent help these days) the UHJ established a new institution at the World Centre, the International Teaching Centre. This has come to be a pool of candidates for the UHJ, in effect. All of the present members of the UHJ were members of the ITC when they were elected. This is seriously bad stuff for the Bahai Administration, because the UHJ sits at the top of the 3-layer pyramid of elected institutions, and its members logically and practically should be drawn from those with long experience on National Spiritual Assemblies around the world. Instead, the UHJ appoints Councillors (members) to the ITC, who are suited to the work of the ITC and who usually have prior experience as continental councillors -- and then the delegates to the international convention take these people, who were doing the work the UHJ thought they were best at (which does not include administering Bahai communities), and moves them onto the UHJ, which has a different kind of work to do. The UHJ as a result has no members with long experience on an NSA, and every time this happens it has to fill the gaps in the ITC.

This is fixable, either by abolishing the International Teaching Centre (it is not mentioned in scripture, so it can be changed or abolished), or more probably, by the UHJ stating that the Councillors it has chosen to work in the ITC should be allowed to stay there. The UHJ, or the Councillors, would have to suggest to the convention delegates not to elect sitting Councillors to the Universal House of Justice. There are good precedents for such a request. The first is the example of the Hands of the Cause, who by asking the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies not to vote for them (Ministry of the Custodians, p. 20) gave concrete expression to the separation of the spheres of authority and administration on the one hand, and of guidance and wisdom on the other hand. There was a similar policy in the time of Shoghi Effendi. His secretary wrote "… the Guardian states that the Hands of the Cause are eligible to administrative offices except those permanently residing in Haifa and helping the Guardian in the administrative work. (Letter of May 30, 1952, on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, published in The Light of Divine Guidance v I, p. 182)

In the present-day structure, membership of the UHJ is an "administrative office" and the ITC is the descendant of the group of Hands of the Cause who one lived in Haifa to help Shoghi Effendi. So it's no great stretch to use the 1952 letter as precedent for saying the ITC Councillors are not eligible for administrative offices. Perhaps the UHJ is already moving towards declaring the Councillors non-electable, as at the continental level it has stated:

"...the Universal House of Justice has decided that Counsellors, during their terms of office, are not “eligible for membership on national or local administrative bodies… ” (Wellspring of Guidance, pp. 141-142) and it has asked the members of the Auxiliary Boards to suggest to delegates at national convention, that it would not be desirable to elect them to the National Spiritual Assembly: National Assemblies in whose areas of jurisdiction Board Members reside, should point out to the delegates at Convention that whilst teaching and administrative duties are not mutually exclusive, it is desirable that Auxiliary Board Members, whether for teaching or protection, be left free to concentrate on the work allotted to them… "

The same surely is true of the members of the ITC: they should be left to concentrate on the work allotted to them. However the freedom of the delegates or electors to vote for whomever they wish is a great good: note that the language in the last letter I quoted only suggests what is desirable, without laying down a rule. In the Guardian's time, however, the 9 "Hands of the Cause" were simply ineligible.
 
Many thanks for the replies. :)

So, just to clarify - see if I've got this right ...

There are local worship groups - each local group has 9 elected representatives.

Each country has a national body, made of up a team of 9 representatives, who are elected by a meeting of all local groups.

Each selection of 9 national representative meet every 5 years to elect 9 international leaders.

Is that correct?

A curious question - if there is no campaigning, then how would the local representatives be aware of the qualities of people to elect as national candidates? Similar with the 9 international leaders? Is it that there are special Baha'i publications - newspapers, or magazines, for example, where persons can become known for their work, which might otherwise recommend them?

Thanks for the post... I'd also like to respond that Baha'is are active in their communities and hence become aware of the friends who are contributing to efforts and so on.. so if they are active they become known and when election comes about in a state of prayer they make a decision to vote.

There is a National Convention that meets annually and delegates are selected by Unit Conventions in various regions.. and they elect the members who serve on the National Spiritual Assembly.

Here's an example of the National Convention that was held last month:

National Convention 2014 | BAHÁ'Í EVENTS

When the Universal House of Justice is elected every five years there is a convention and the delegates are sent by the National Spiritual Assemblies around the globe...The delegates elected the Baha'is that serve on the Universal House of Justice.

I'll provide a news article available regarding the last election of the House of Justice elected in 2013:

http://news.bahai.org/story/951
 
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