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Church Guidelines In Mizoram Bring Fair Elections, Impress Observers

Updated: December 17, 2003 05:00 PM GMT
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To combat a growing trend toward violent and costly election campaigns, a delegation from Nagaland visited neighboring Mizoram state where the Church has improved the conduct of elections.

Unlike elsewhere in India, the 891,000 people of the tiny hill state of Mizoram have been holding peaceful, low-cost elections for several years. The 50-member team from Nagaland was impressed while touring Mizoram Nov. 16-21 as Mizoram´s people went about electing a 40-member legislative assembly.

Lalthara, Nagaland´s state election commissioner and the team leader, says the visit of representatives from 14 Nagaland organizations to Mizoram had been organized because Naga people want to learn from their "Mizo brothers." Both states are tribal-dominated, and most people in Nagaland are Baptists.

Violent insurgency movements plagued both states for decades. However, while disturbances continue in Nagaland, Mizoram has been peaceful since 1987 when the state government signed an accord with the federal government.

During the visit, the Nagaland study team saw the election process unfold in an orderly and sober fashion, mainly due to the Church´s influence. More than 85 percent of people in Mizoram are Christians, mostly Presbyterians.

Team member Neingulo Krome told UCA News the main reason for such orderly elections seemed to be pre-poll guidelines issued by the Church in Mizoram. The guidelines of the Joint Churches Committee in Mizoram instructed people to avoid voting for candidates of doubtful character and to reject people who are corrupt, use alcohol or drugs, or display anti-social behavior.

John Murry, general secretary of a Naga elders´ body called Naga Hoho, told UCA News that the Church and NGOs in Nagaland should emulate the efforts of Mizoram´s Church. By sending a delegation to Mizoram, he said, the Nagaland government was demonstrating that it too wants to reform the election process.

During the elections, the team saw no slogan shouting processions, boisterous rallies or partying at candidates´ houses. Moreover, Mizoram authorities reported, there had been no vote rigging or proxy voting.

The Church guidelines urged political parties to field "principled, mature, hardworking and honest" candidates who "despise corruption" and are sober citizens. They also asked the parties and candidates during their campaigning not to mislead people with their speeches or undertake mudslinging, violence and threats. They also forbade anyone using minors as campaigners.

Bishop Steven Rotluanga of Aizawl told UCA News the Catholic Church did not produce its own guidelines but instead endorsed those that other Christian leaders issued. The prelate also said the Catholic Church was "not too involved" because Catholics are such a small group and not active in politics.

Aizawl, about 2,460 kilometers east of New Delhi, is the capital of Mizoram and the base of the Catholic diocese that covers the whole state.

Nagaland team member Krome observed that the Mizo people generally followed the Church guidelines because most belong to one or another denomination.

Noting that the Young Mizo Association, a 40,000-strong youth group, ensured proper implementation of the Church guidelines, Krome said that "the Church and youth complement and supplement each other." He also said that politicians refrained from using liquor to entice young people and voters during the campaign, and that use of security forces during the election was minimal.

K.L Rochama, a Mizoram Baptist leader, told UCA News that "everyone knows everyone" in Mizo society, "so they will not allow their votes to be purchased." He also pointed out that election campaigning is done through local TV channels that give all political parties a chance to air their views.

Murry, the Naga elder, commended the Church and other groups for working to reduce election costs. In India, where elections can be costly, a campaigning candidate often spends from 50 million to 100 million rupees (US$1.1 million-2.2 million) for expenses such as poster campaigns, rallies and even gifts.

Worthing Horam, a Nagaland team member from the Naga Students Federation, told UCA News that everyone the team met credits the Church and the youth association for helping to control often prohibitive election expenses. In his view, any election reform should start with the people because, as he learned, "it was the Mizo people and Mizo Christians who started the reforms here."

Lalhmachhuana, the Mizo youth association´s vice president, insists that the changes in Mizoram could happen only after years of efforts by the Churches, but Linda Chawchawk, a young Mizo woman, says her people´s self-respect and dignity should also be credited for helping to reduce the campaign expenses.

According to Mizoram election results announced on Dec. 1, the Mizo National Front led by Chief Minister Zoramthanga retained power by winning 21 seats.

END

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