Sunday, 14 April, 2024

Purse Plays Havoc In The Polls

Mukti Rijal

Local media highlighted, the other day, the news on the notification issued by the Parliament Secretariat to relinquish the membership of the Maoist Centre leaders like Top Bahadur Raymajhi, Prabhu Shah and Lekh Raj Bhatta who preferred to side with the CPN - UML following the breakup of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) engineered due to the ruling of the court. These Maoist leaders had joined the incumbent cabinet led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli during the previous months, and are currently holding the key ministerial portfolios like Energy and Water Resources, Industry, Commerce and Industry and Supplies, and so on. They have been retained in the cabinet for the six months as the PM has reappointed them and allowed to take the oath of office. It is to be noted that these former Maoist leaders had to cease and relinquish their membership of the federal parliament pursuant to the provision of anti-defection law.

Pomp and show
According to law, by-election to fill up the vacated seats has to be held within six months - a democratic electoral exercise that is mandatory from legal and legitimacy point of view. But when this writer conjures up an image of the electoral exercise in Nepal, a theatrical enactment of showbiz with extravagant pomp and show comes alive in the mind of this writer. The party candidates who contest the polls should afford to finance this extravagant showbiz that consumes huge resources, energy and efforts. No holds are barred and no means are foul when it comes to the game of electoral contest.
Recently this writer had talked with some middle ranking party leaders, especially from the major political parties, about their experiences and impressions of the cut-throat electoral competition in Nepal. They confided in to this author that they are not in a position to contest the polls because of the fact that exorbitant resources will have to be collected and mobilised to conduct elections campaigning. According to them, elections in Nepal have become so expensive and cost-intensive that those leaders who had had not the opportunity of holding lucrative ministries to loot the public exchequer or maintain business connection through shady deals would dare not summon their courage to contest the costlier elections.
Moreover, most of the women political leaders and also those from the marginalised groups, including the Dalits and Janajatis, tend to prefer to protect their seats through the Proportional Representation quota for reason of the excessive expenses and resources fundamentally required to mobilise the heavy campaigning juggernaut in the election. The escalation in electoral expenses was intriguingly illustrated during the elections held during three and a half years ago at the local, provincial and federal levels.
The candidates reportedly expended millions of rupees to compete in the polls. Even the fringe parties that held out reduced prospects to win federal and provincial assembly seats had reportedly offered their nomination to highest bidders by sidelining those who had been the committed party loyalists for a longer period of time.
All these instances do indicate that elections in Nepal have become too prohibitive and expensive for the less resourceful politicians to run the electioneering machinery in the competitive way. The political contestants have to use every means – both legal and illegal - to amass huge resources to fuel and propel their campaigning machine even if breaching the code of ethics brazenly. The Election Commission of Nepal had fixed campaign spending limit for the elections to the House of the Representatives at the federal and provincial level elections in the seven provinces of the country.
But if one watches and keeps vigil over the mounting elections expenses, one easily notices that the expenses a candidate pours in for oiling his or her electoral campaign apparatus crosses 10 million rupees mark at minimum. Where does the money that funds the campaigning of the political parties and candidates in the election draw from is a big question. However, this is seldom disclosed and accounted. The mounting electoral expense has thus assaulted on the values and principles of democracy as only those who possess monetary clout and illicit income can contest elections and secure their place in the democratic institutions of the state.
The state can be reduced into a surrogate agency to further and protect the interests of election campaign financiers, not that of the ordinary population. It is here that the role of the Election Commission is very crucial and important. The election body should step up its vigilance to sanction and check the election campaigning that flouts the code of conduct through breach of cap on campaign expenses.

Electoral code
Here political parties should also take cognisance of the fact that their role and orientation alone can support in maintaining electoral integrity and fairness. All the financial deals should be transacted transparently ensuring disclosures of income and expenses. Moreover, all the financial deals should be executed in adherence to the financial accounting standards so that the credibility and veracity of their financial audited reports is ensured and maintained. Civil society and media should also play an important role to make the political actors follow the electoral code of ethics.
Media can investigate and disclose the nefarious activities while civil society can take up and engage with the parties to refrain from indulging into actions that flout the code of ethics. When political parties, election commission, civil society and media work together to check the malaise of the rising campaign financing costs, the situation can be improved significantly.

(Rijal, PhD, writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues.