Baha'is hold unique democratic elections
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Baha'i delegates from throughout South Africa have elected the national governing body of the Faith using the same unique democratic system employed by Baha'i communities in more than 180 countries worldwide.
Forty-eight delegates gathered at the new national Baha'i center this month for the annual convention where they consulted on plans for their national Baha'i community.
The delegates also heard the news that the Baha'i Faith will be introduced into state schools throughout South Africa as part of the "Religion in Education" program run by the government.
However, the main purpose of the meeting was the election. In a prayerful atmosphere, the delegates voted for nine members of their community to serve on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of South Africa for one year.
A spokesman for the Baha'i International Community, Douglas Moore, said the distinctive way Baha'i elections are conducted worldwide stems from the writings of the Baha'i Faith.
"The Baha'i Faith administers its affairs through democratically elected nine-member councils at local, regional, national, and international levels," Mr. Moore said. "It's a sacred process for Baha'is."
"There are no nominations before or during elections, and Baha'is completely abstain from campaigning or discussing the qualities of individuals," Mr. Moore said.
"The delegates make their own private choice of who to vote for based on criteria set down in the writings of the Faith," he said.
"Those criteria are unquestioned loyalty, selfless devotion, a well-trained mind, recognized ability, and mature experience."
Mr. Moore said that the voting is by secret ballot. Every adult Baha'i (21 years old and over) in the country is eligible to be voted for.
Voting for the National Spiritual Assemblies takes place at conventions where delegates, who are elected to represent regional areas, also consult on the progress of the Baha'i community and how best to contribute to the spiritual well-being of their countries.
The conventions held this year were the final in a five-year period during which the Universal House of Justice asked the Baha'is to pay particular attention to encouraging the participation of the wider society in three "core activities": the spiritual education of children, capacity-building study circles, and devotional gatherings.
Increasing numbers of people who are not Baha'is have now participated in the core activities throughout the world.
A message from the Universal House of Justice to the Baha'is of the world -- known as the Ridvan message -- was consulted upon at the conventions.
In Brazil, 50 delegates from 25 Brazilian states consulted on measures to mobilize the trained human resources of the community to achieve their goals. They also discussed how junior youth and youth can bring spiritual teachings to their own generation.
In Russia, the delegates gathering in Moscow came from a diverse range of nationalities spanning the greater part of the country, including regions such as Ossetia, Yakutia, Kalmiki, and Buryatia. The consultation on the use of the arts in the community emphasized folk art as a direct and effective means of attracting the hearts of the people to spiritual teachings.
In Japan, 31 delegates meeting in the Tokyo Baha'i center reported that they were heartened by the expansion of the Japanese Baha'i community, the increase in the number of Baha'i children's classes and the rising number of participants from the wider society who are joining Baha'i study circles and devotional gatherings.
In New Caledonia, the national convention was marked by significant participation by the youth among the delegates. The delegates consulted on how to enhance children's classes, study circles, and devotional gatherings and also on the national Baha'i Fund.
In Myanmar (Burma), 54 delegates met in Daidanaw, a Baha'i village. Following the enthusiastic consultations at the convention more than 300 children attended a children's conference.
In the United States, the 96th annual convention was held in the Foundation Hall of the Baha'i House of Worship for North America in Wilmette, Illinois. The delegates reported a greater appreciation of systematization of activities and an expanded outward-looking orientation and fostering of individual initiative.
In France, the delegates reported a "serene and focused atmosphere" and a "constructive and smooth unfolding of the consultation and the election of the National Spiritual Assembly."
On 20 April, Baha'i local communities worldwide elected their governing councils, the Local Spiritual Assemblies.