Ridvan, also known as the Most Great Festival, celebrates Baha’u’llah’s time in the garden of Ridvan on the outskirts of Baghdad in 1863 where He publicly declared His station as a Manifestation of God. The Ridvan Festival is 12 days long and is also the time of year where Baha’is elect their local and national governing bodies, and every five years, the international governing body for the worldwide Baha’i community.
Every year, Baha’is the world over gather in their local communities on the first day of Ridvan to elect the nine members of their Local Spiritual Assembly. Every adult Baha’i at the age of 21 is eligible to be voted for, and they have the responsibility to participate and vote for these nine members of the community who will volunteer their time to run the administrative affairs and assist in the spiritual well-being of their respective local communities for the year ahead.
When one thinks of elections, perhaps for many of us what immediately comes to mind are political parties and candidates, expensive campaigns, televised debates, the digging up of dirt on the opposing party, and copious amounts of campaign flyers and confetti.
This is not the case however with Baha’i elections. There are no political parties or independent candidates. Rather than debates, there is community consultation. Rather than smear campaigns, there is encouragement and accompaniment. Rather than campaign flyers and confetti, there are prayers and personal meditation.
Participation in the elections is a sacred duty, and being elected onto a Local Assembly is considered a position of service rather than a position power. For instance those who are elected onto an Assembly do not posses a higher ‘rank’ or authority over any other members of their community, but are really members who make up an administrative body which does have the authority to both guide the community, and serve its needs.
Besides the fact that the individual’s vote is to be kept strictly confidential, one of the interesting features of the election process is the fact that no reference of any nature should be made to individual names, as this is not allowed.
Shoghi Effendi offers clear guidance on this point:
…reference to personalities before the election would give rise to misunderstanding and differences. What the friends should do is to get thoroughly acquainted with one another, to exchange views, to mix freely and discuss among themselves the requirements and qualifications for such a membership without reference or application, however indirect, to particular individuals.
The Universal House of Justice has also shed some light on the confidentiality of the votes by stating:
…while there should be no mention of personalities in connection with Baha’i elections, it is quite appropriate for believers to discuss the requirements and qualifications for membership in the institution to be elected.
Shoghi Effendi has also given us the qualities these individuals should possess, for instance things like unquestioned loyalty, selfless devotion, a well-trained mind, recognized ability and mature experience are qualities we should be looking for when meditating on who to vote for. In order for us to recognize these qualities however, we must make an effort to get to know all the members of our community as best as possible, and Shoghi Effendi stated that this is only achieved through “close and continued contact with all local activities, be they teaching, administrative or otherwise, and to fully, and wholeheartedly, participate in the affairs of the local as well as national committees and assemblies in his country”.
I personally live in a large community, and while meditating on who to vote for, I often find myself coming up with a list of more than nine people who match these qualities. In cases like this, The Universal House of Justice has advised that attention and consideration is made to factors such as age distribution, diversity and gender.
Fortunately there is a lot of guidance about the Baha’i elections, and I could literally sit here for hours and write about the many different aspects of the elections, but for now I’ll leave it here by wishing you all a very happy Ridvan, and ending with a lovely quote from Abdu’l-Baha about our Spiritual Assemblies:
These Spiritual Assemblies are shining lamps and heavenly gardens, from which the fragrances of holiness are diffused over all regions, and the lights of knowledge are shed abroad over all created things. From them the spirit of life streameth in every direction. They, indeed, are the potent sources of the progress of man, at all times and under all conditions.