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Report No. 244

(iv) Negative effects on democracy

The increasing presence of persons with criminal backgrounds has several negative effects on the quality of democracy in the country. First, enormous amounts of illegal money are pumped into the electoral process due to extensive links with the criminal underworld. Along with the money, candidates with criminal backgrounds employ illegal tactics such as voter intimidation. Together, this distorts electoral outcomes and consequently compromises the very basis of our democracy. It also initiates a vicious cycle whereby viable candidates are required to spend increasing amounts of money in order to compete, intensifying connections with criminal elements.

Secondly, one of the reasons for the entrance of criminals into politics is a desire to avoid or subvert judicial proceedings through political patronage. Criminalisation of politics thus also has the consequence of obstructing the process of justice and causing further delays in trials.

The law in its present form is incapable of curbing the growing cancer of criminalisation of politics. Long delays in trials coupled with rare convictions ensure that politicians face little or no consequences when engaging in criminal activity. The law needs to evolve to meet this threat to our democracy, and to effectively curb the steady flow of criminals into the political process. The reformed law must meet two challenge.- the limited deterrence posed by disqualification upon conviction, and the issue of delays in trials of influential persons that result in a subversion of the process of justice.

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