Election expenditure in the country has risen to many folds in recent years owing to various reasons. Politicians who have desired to compete in polls have started feeling the heat of rising poll expenditure. Nepali Congress leader Dr. Shashank Koirala felt the same when revealed, the other day, that he had to spend about Rs. 60 million to win the last election as a member of the House of Representatives, though the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) had then set the limit of election-related expenditure to Rs. 2.5 million for a candidate. This further revealed that Dr. Koirala was forced to spend 24-time higher than the restrictions imposed on poll expenditure. Chairman of CPN (Maoist) Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, in September last year, had said he had to think twice before contesting elections owing to rising costs.
Contesting elections has become a 'daring task' for the political leaders even for those who belong to the economically well-off upper rung. Elections in recent times have become assumed a full-fledged marketing gimmick and branding activity where a large number of cadres, workers and well-wishers are mobilised. Posters, banners, T-shirts, caps, and flags are distributed, food and drinks are offered and multiple vehicles are used for electioneering. They incur good expenditure. On top of that, many candidates had to 'buy' tickets to contest polls. What is worth noting is that many candidates and political parties submit fake spending reports to the election body.
For this year's local elections, the ECN has put Rs. 750,000 ceiling on poll expenditure for candidates vying for a mayor and deputy mayor of a metropolitan city, Rs. 550,000 for mayor and deputy mayor of sub-metropolis. Likewise, expenditure limits for candidates vying for the post of chiefs and deputies of municipalities and rural municipalities are Rs. 450,000 and Rs. 350,000 respectively. According to the election body, candidates for ward chairpersons could spend from Rs. 150,000 to Rs. 300,000 from rural municipalities to metropolises. However, many ward chairpersons admit polling expenses of up to Rs. 10 million. It is generally believed that whenever candidates spend more than the limit set by the ECN, the money is illegally outsourced from business persons and corrupt politicians. It means they have to exhibit loyalty to the ones who fund them, triggering a situation wherein policy and monetary corruption at various levels take place. The mayors and ward chairpersons illegally awarding natural resources like sand mines, forests and public land to the contractors and their election financiers is one out of many corrupt practices.
Representatives who organise extravagant election campaigns often compromise their duties to the public and political ethics. Instead of facilitating the public with timely services in a simplified manner, they look to find ways to commit financial misappropriation to recoup spending. Social and infrastructure development takes a back seat. Hence, to save public funds from getting misused, election expenditure by candidates must be brought down to the ceiling fixed by the ECN. However, the current ceiling set by the election body seems impractical and needs to be reviewed, and robust monitoring, as well as auditing of poll expenditure, should be conducted impartially. Unless stern action is taken against those violating the spending limit, malpractices will continue to flourish, which will ultimately create grounds for corruption and embezzlement of public funds.