Primary election

The primary election model was created as part of a movement to democratize party nominations, and is quite popular in few countries, especially in the United States. The origins of primary elections are traced to the progressive movements that wanted to take the power of candidate nomination away from party leaders and give it to the people, there by diminishing the power of the party’s ‘high command’.

Primaries are conducted from the presidential elections to the elections for local bodies in the US. This method allows party members and loyalists to choose their preferred candidate to represent their party in the general election. There are two types of primaries: Closed and open primaries. The closed primary is one in which only registered party members may vote for their party’s nomination and is also the most commonly used method. On the other hand, an open primary does not require voters to be affiliated with a political party in order to vote for that party’s candidate nomination.

Role of primaries in a vibrant democracy cannot be overstated. Hillary Clinton might have been the president of the United States and not the charming, first African-American president Barack Obama, if it were not for the primaries. When Clinton announced her intentions to run for the president and to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2007, a huge majority of the party leadership supported her candidature and it appeared her nomination was all but locked. It all changed so rapidly once Obama announced his candidature and the rest is history. It was Obama who the members of the party wanted to as their nominee and the party leaders had to bow to their wishes. This model pushes all potential candidates to understand and respect the wishes of all members of the party, not just of a few elite members whose hands can be greased or cajoled to get the nomination.

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It is a welcome step that AAP has adopted this concept too. Though the members of the AamAadmi Party don’t have final say in the nominations, at least not yet, and their feedback is only one of the inputs into the decision-making process, it is indeed a great start for a new party to make such a big play in its first elections. The party should release the voting percentage for each candidates and the reason for selecting the nominee finally to keep up their mission of full transparency.

India desperately needs a democracy 2.0, which will fundamentally shake our political culture that is full of nepotism and graft, both within and outside our political system. These new experiments would put a tremendous pressure on major parties to clean up their act and raise their game or face the risk of new smaller parties, with similar or better ideas, nibble away at their support base.


Currently, for most recognized national political parties, the norm for selection of candidates seems to be the following: “the national party organs completely control the selection of candidates for the national elections while the subnational party organs send their proposed names to the former which ultimately decides who would get the ticket.” The parties, in several cases, do tend to rely on rigorous research (e.g., surveys, observers sent to each constituency, etc.) as well as extensive deliberations between different parts of the party apparatus to determine who the right candidates would be.

The considerations used by the national party organs vary across parties. As, for some parties, caste considerations are paramount while for others it might be money. It seems that at the end of the day some combination of a diverse range of factors – money, religion or caste of the candidate (vis a vis the religion/caste composition of the constituency), winnability, recognition of the work for the party, coalition compulsions (due to party alliances in that state), satisfying different factions represented by important state-level leaders, etc. – are taken into account by all parties.

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