Soaring election expenses, opaque sources worry experts

November 17, 2017 07:09 AM Bhadra Sharma


KATHMANDU, Nov 16: Just ahead of the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections, the then UCPN (Maoist) proposed that its leader Khim Lal Devkota  contest  from Kaski-4. While offering  him the ticket, the party   set the condition that he should invest at least Rs 10 million in the campaign.

Party leaders asked him to put up half  the amount and collect the remaining amount from donors and well-wishers. After  weighing his financial situation, Devkota gave up the idea of contesting the poll.  “It has become very difficult for ordinary people to manage election expenditures,”  he said.

Devkota, who is now with the Baburam Bhattarai-led Naya Shakti Party, has not dared to contest the election this time either as  he does not have the financial resources for campaigning. “Winning elections is not possible without buying votes. And after getting elected,  one has to invest more to get a ministerial berth and recover the money already spent,” he said. 

Party leaders and candidates interviewed by Republica said election expenditures have increased significantly in recent days and  the sources of funding remain opaque.

With the increased influence of money in elections, earnest politicians are getting sidelined. “Election costs have skyrocketed beyond the reach of politicians from the middle class. This tendency is dominant in all the parties, not just in our own,” CPN-UML Vice-chair Yubaraj Gyawali said in recent interview with Radio Nagarik. He said he decided not to contest the elections as he does  not have enough money. 

Gyawali said construction contractors, who  now dominate district level politics, arrange the poll expenditures of senior leaders and use that approach as a ladder to  join politics themselves. As many as three dozen contractors are said to  be fielded by major political parties for the upcoming parliamentary and provincial elections. 

Concerned over the soaring election costs, the Election Commission (EC) has set a Rs 2.5 million  ceiling  for  parliamentary candidates. But those contesting the elections said Rs 10 million is a minimum requirement. “On  average Rs 10 million was spent in the 2013 CA elections. Candidates need to invest more this time as competition is  tougher, with the parties  polarized into two alliances,” said Devkota of Naya Shakti

Non-transparency

The EC has made the use of banking channels  mandatory for donations  above Rs 5,000 to the parties, for the sake of transparency. But leaders of major parties interviewed by Republica said none of them have used the banking system. 

Contrary to the previous practice of collecting funds through the banking system and distributing them  centrally  to the candidates, the parties this time have mandated their local chapters to arrange the funding themselves and spend it as they see fit. 

This has led the candidates and parties to collect money arbitrarily from wherever they can  and also spend accordingly. Donations, according to candidates, are being collected from industrialists, businesspersons, private organizations and well-wishers in  unorganized fashion. Some candidates confirmed that their respective parties have not provided them any money. The party leaderships said they don’t have adequate resources. 

In 2013, the UML provided Rs 200,000 to each candidate and this support was increased based on the basis of winning prospects. “A mere Rs 200,000 is inadequate. So, this time we have mandated the party’s local chapters to manage the finances on their own,” said Surya Thapa, deputy-chief of UML’s Publicity Department. 

Source of donations 

While allowing  their candidates to solicit funds at local level, the headquarters of the parties are also collecting funds separately. 

In a circular to  party rank and file, the UML has asked its organized cadres and well-wishers to ‘donate voluntarily’ for poll expenditures as much as they can. 

The circular obtained by the Republica states that UML has asked the party’s employed cadres and well-wishers to donate at least Rs 1,000 each while a party leader or cadre living in South Korea, Europe, Australia,  Japan or other developed countries are asked to donate at least US $1,000. 
UML has fixed a minimum donation of $100 for a Nepali migrant worker in the Gulf or Malaysia. Nepali entrepreneurs in the Gulf  are asked to donate at least $500. 

Informed NC candidates estimated Rs 10 million as the minimum expenditure for a candidate. Despite such a huge estimate, the party has provided only Rs 100,000 to each candidate. Party   membership fees, donations from traditional supporters and state resources collected by ministers are the major sources of party internal funds, said   insiders.

NC has mandated  billionaire Binod Chadhary to arrange the funds required for the elections. Apart from this, candidates are also free to collect donations in their respective constituencies.
NC has fielded Chaudhary under the PR category. He was a lawmaker from the UML in 2008. 
The CPN (Maoist Center) has not set out any guidelines for election expenditures.

Its leaders are collecting funds at central and local levels, according to Maoist leaders. “Since the party has not set out any guidelines, the leaders are  on their own,” said Pampha Bhusal of the Maoist party.

Bhusal said that like many others she has been arranging funds through her personal connections.
Worrying facts 

Experts are worried by the increasing flow of money in elections. According to the EC, altogether 5,184 candidates are contesting for  parliament and the provincial assemblies under the FPTP electoral system while the number of candidates contesting under PR is 6,094. Their expenditures stand at tens of billions. “If you  calculate the poll expanses of the election body and the candidates, the total amount crosses Rs 70 billion. And unclear sources are the worrying factor,” said former chief election commissioner Neil Kantha Uprety. 

Asked about efforts  to control election costs, Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav said  recent media reports about the expenses have  the election body worried. “We are  monitoring the poll expanses,” he said.

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