Candidate in General Elections

Candidate Wealth, Education, and Criminality in the
2018 General Elections in Pakistan


A dominant theme of the 2018 General Elections in Pakistan was wealth, ill-gotten or otherwise. The incumbent Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was removed from office by Pakistan’s Supreme Court a year before the election and then sentenced to jail just 10 days before the election for wealth uncovered by the Panama Papers1 . The origins of this wealth could not be explained, and as a result the family and their party were punished in the court room and at the ballot box. While cases of grand corruption and hidden wealth dominate much of the public’s attention, the declaration of candidate’s assets, as well as their legal history, can also be revealing about the political class, their representation of the country, and what implications there may be for governance.

From national level leaders (Besley, Montalvo and Reynal-Querol, 2011) to local officials (Chattopadhyay and Duflo, 2004), there is ample evidence that the characteristics of rulers can shape the effectiveness of governance, as well as the types of policies that get implemented. Understanding the wealth, education, and criminal background of political candidates, and studying what kinds of candidates end up winning, can be revealing about how democracies and their institutions interact with candidate characteristics. In this report, I will document a new dataset of candidates declared assets, legal history, education, and other demographics for the vast majority of candidates for national and provincial assemblies in the 2018 elections.

I first describe the candidate affidavit declaration process, before turning to a discussion of the data. Then, I demonstrate that election winners are significantly wealthier than candidates who end up second or worse, that certain political parties are far more likely to rely on wealthy candidates to fill out their ranks, before demonstrating that candidate wealth is not sufficient to explain much of the variation in electoral outcomes. I replicate analyses from India that show that parties may be willing to nominate candidates with criminal charges if they can finance their own campaigns and even contribute to political parties, before concluding with some potential takeaways and general recommendations.

Read the entire report here.



Luke Sonnet

Doctoral Candidate of Political Science at University of California, Los Angeles.