Numerous factors are acutely responsible for the persistence and worsening of the phenomenon of corruption in many so-called democracies. These factors include regulatory capture, lack of transparency, inappropriate political systems, vertical policy transplantations, the weak rule of law, harsh economic conditions, the absence of political legitimacy etc. All these factors tend to be invisible to the general public and require scandal to be known. Another critical factor in the growth of corruption is the much less talked about “guilty accuser syndrome”. The guilty accuser syndrome is a sophisticated political selection strategy that ensures that only politicians with “dirty hands” can get into positions of power that are both strategic and lucrative. Such a syndrome is more associated with new and transition democracies than mature liberal version. The guilty accuser syndrome is a significant weapon of corrupt political patrons since it can ruin strong institutions and render institutional reform useless.
The selectorate responsible for the corrupt selection of political candidates for election (through primaries) and appointment are mainly of two kinds, though with variations depending on the society in question.
There is the “patron selectorate” which is a tiny elite core of families, dynasties, godfathers and patrons with much amassed political leverage that decides which specific candidates will win the party primaries and later the general elections. It would be wrong to assume the patron selectorate is monolithic; competition and in-fighting often exist in their circles in many nations. The patron selectorate will usually have full control over the nation’s electoral commission and electoral colleges. Since the patron selectorate can place people in political office with certainty, only those that will comply with their patron’s narrow interests while in office will be selected; elections and appointments become the stuff forgone conclusions. In very corrupt countries, the patron selectorate ensures that anyone who comes into office will not turn against them [the patrons], their contemporaries in office nor their predecessors. Neither do they want anyone to question or challenge the repertoire and tradition of externalities developed by corrupt officeholders over years or decades that facilitate corrupt practices and the necessary impunity that is provided? Here is where the “guilty accuser tactic” becomes indispensable.
Any candidate who has is known to the patron selectorate to have a spotless record, has unquestionable integrity, is proven incorruptible and of very high moral standing will neither get through the election primaries nor be selected for a political appointment. Exceptions occur if (a) a new face with great potential is identified. Such a fresh political candidate will be somehow be evidentially corrupted often by deception or cooption before he or takes office or immediately after. (b) Clean candidates with international banking impeccable experience (private or public sector) [especially] to improve the investment image of the nation. Those candidates that get into office and seek to defy the wishes of the patron selectorate are either assassinated or humiliated out of office.
Therefore the guilty accuser syndrome is designed and entrenched by the patron selectorate to ensure that most elected or appointed government officials are beforehand guilty of some significant form of corruption. Such an approach acts as a deterrent to them when either out of their scrupulousness or the fundamental responsibility of their office invariably demands they challenge, expose or investigate the corruption or misgovernance of other culpable officials (s). If the chairman of a legislative committee is compelled by his office to investigate the corruption of the President, his or her corruption will be promptly exposed. If the chairman of the electoral commission recalls the election of a corrupt legislator, read the newspapers the next day. Under these conditions, the only time an elected politician can be impeached or appointed official sacked is when the patron selectorate or individual patron decides so.
In mature liberal democracies and similar the funder selectorate, those groups and individuals have enough money to buy the influence an office confers on an elected or appointed official; “influence peddling”. It is common knowledge that presidents, parliamentarians, deputies, senators, representatives and others need generous and increasing funds provided by a small fraction of the general population to get elected or re-elected into office in ways that end up seriously compromising or co-opting them to act in ways that deviate from the expected norms. The provisions by funders for the political campaigns of candidates can vary from several thousand to several million-pound sterlings or US dollars. The fundraising process reduces the elected politicians in some sense to a “commodity” for sale or rent. Such is an undeniable legacy of the neoliberal political economy that commodifies everything; it has made this form of fundraising selection of political candidates particularly possible.
Selectorates are inimical to democracy even in mature liberal democracies because they undermine the proposed sanctity of democratic practice; one person, one vote. When a few out of the many voters determine who the few representative elected officials will be in the primaries and the elections, we have an inverted minarchy [big government determined by small numbers of selectors] mimicking a democracy [government determined by the majority of voters]. It is no surprise that the apathy towards voting in mature democracies is endemic.
The optimism associated with influence-peddling style selection whether theoretical or realistic is that it can be checked and corrected by way of political funding reforms if the elite political sanctions the possibility for whatever reason, e.g. persistent public protest. Also, elections have shown that political parties and candidates who far outspend their opponents may still lose the election. Money spent does not guarantee the certainty of election victory; it only underwrites it. Furthermore, without much naivety, the impeachment of an elected official or the sacking of an appointed is possible regardless of funds available and the interests of funders.
The pessimism borne of the supremacy of the guilty accuser syndrome in any society is an intractable one. Corruption becomes an entrenched and dominant form of social organisation in the affairs of the nation. Dependable, conscientious, moral and able politicians never or rarely get elected or appointed to office. Who will then do the work of nation-building and advancement? Conversely, the more corrupt a politician is, the more likely he or she is to get into political office. Over time the uninterrupted phenomenon of guilty accuser syndrome produces a kakistocracy, i.e. government by the worst [most corrupt] citizens.
Do you know any potential kakistocracy? Please share the knowledge if you can. The guilty accuser syndrome might be responsible.