POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Conflict of Interest

A conflict of interest arises when a person or organization has multiple interests, one of which threatens to corrupt the decision-making process of the person or organization with regards to the other interest. Interests can be classified as either primary or secondary:

  • Primary interest - the overarching aim/duty of an activity or job
  • Secondary interest - includes personal benefits such as career advancement, financial enrichment or advancing the interests of family and friends

A conflict of interest therefore arises when there is a risk that the primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest. 

For example, Presidents and Prime Ministers are duty-bound to act in the public interest (the primary interest). A conflict of interest would arise if themselves or their family members had business interests (the secondary interest) which stood to gain financially from decisions made in their capacity as President or Prime Minister. The risk is that decisions made by the President or Prime Minister won’t be reached based on whether they serve the public interest, but rather on how much they financially benefit their secondary business interests.

See also: Prime Minister, Presidential Election, Board Officers

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