Every State prescribes some qualifications for representatives in order that those seeking election may offer proof of a genuine interest in public affairs.
“Absence of limitation,” writes Laski, “may give us a Younger Pitt, but it gives us also a large number of members who go to the legislative assembly merely for the prestige which membership confers.” These qualifications are not fixed. They differ from country to country, but all governments insist upon the following minimum qualifications:
A representative must be a citizen of the State either by birth or by naturalization, and in possession of full civil and political rights. An alien, who owes allegiance to another State and whose sympathies belong to a foreign country, should not be elected a representative and entrusted with the duty of law-making.
If an alien is permitted to seek election and gets elected to the legislature, his aim would either be personal to gain his own interests, or to secure favourable legislation for his own financial interests, or to further the political interests of his own country.
In all probability his interests would be antagonistic to the interests of the country of which he has been elected a representative. The propriety of excluding aliens from the legislative assemblies is now universally accepted.
Some States insist upon residence within the constituency as a necessary qualification. In the United States, so far as the House of Representatives is concerned, while there is no constitutional provision that members shall be residents of the districts by which they are chosen, it has nevertheless become a political practice that such conditions shall obtain.
In the case of the State legislatures, this requirement is often one of constitutional or statutory character, and, when not, the practice is almost invariably followed. In Britain, India and many other countries the practice is for candidates to be selected regardless of their legal place of residence.
The advantages of non-residence system are frankly acknowledged everywhere, including the United States, for it tends to encourage the entrance into public life of persons whom it is desirable to have in public service, and enables members to view their responsibilities from the national standpoint rather than from the interests of the particular locality.
Practically all States require that a representative must have attained the age of majority. A higher age is insisted upon because for law-making experience and mature judgment are considered of vital importance.
Twenty-one or twenty-five years is generally the age limit fixed for representatives in the legislative assemblies. For Second Chambers, however, a higher age is necessary, the idea being to check the radicalism of the popular chamber by maturer judgment and conservatism.
In France, a Senator was required to be forty years of age. According to the Government of India Act, 1935, thirty years was the minimum age for Upper Houses and twenty-five for Lower Houses, both federal and provincial. The Constitution of India also prescribes the same age limits for the Council of States and the House of the People, respectively.
Some States demand possession of property as a necessary qualification for representatives. It is maintained that representatives who own property have sufficient leisure to devote their time and attention to legislative work, and for nursing their constituencies.
They have not to worry for a living. Moreover, they have more stakes in the State and so they discharge their duties more diligently and without even remuneration.
But possession of property as a necessary qualification for purposes of election is now rapidly disappearing. It is considered a political anachronism.
Democracy is established on equality and enjoyment of equal rights by all citizens of the State. It does not differentiate between man and man because of the accident of birth or due to some misfortune over which he has no control.
Likewise, there is no justification in the argument that only owners of property have the leisure to devote their time and energy to legislative work and that they are likely to be cautious in initiating legislative measures.
Payment of remuneration to the legislators is now a common accepted practice of representative democracy and those who have no property get the wherewithal to devote their time exclusively to legislative work.
In every State holders of certain offices are debarred from becoming members of the legislature. In the United States of America members of the executive cannot have seats in Congress. This is due to the rigid application of the theory of Separation of Powers.
In countries with a parliamentary form of government, as in Great Britain and India, ministers, who are heads of the executive departments, are also members of the legislature, but the permanent officials are not.
In India the law specifies that no one may be a member of the legislature if he holds any office of profit other than an office declared by Act not to disqualify the holder. The idea is that those who hold offices of profit, if allowed to become members of the legislature, would always secure legislation to further their own interests.
Every State prescribes rules for the fair conduct of elections and election campaigns. If any candidate infringes these rules, he renders himself liable to disqualification. So much evil has been wrought by corrupt customs and election malpractices that Acts have been passed in every country, prescribing rigorously what each candidate may spend, how he may spend it and the norms he should observe in his election campaign.
For example, in India a candidate must not appeal for vote on religious, caste or other sectarian basis. If he does, it is a malpractice and he can be disqualified by the competent tribunal, if his election is challenged.
In some countries law may require that a person may believe or have faith in a particular religion in order to become a member of the legislature. In Great Britain, for example, ministers of the established churches and the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church cannot be elected to the House of Commons.
Professor Laski suggests that a representative must possess previous experience and adequate knowledge of the working of a local body. He is of the opinion that a representative should be compulsorily required to serve at least for three years on the local body in order to make himself eligible for a seat in Parliament. In this way, the representatives “would game that ‘feel’ of institutions so necessary to success.”