High-profile leaders spending millions on helicopters
KATHMANDU, Nov 29: Despite initial announcement barring political parties and election candidates from using helicopters for poll campaigning, the Election Commission (EC) has allowed some high-profile leaders including the prime minister to enjoy this facility.
With the restriction lifted, top politicians are spending tens of millions daily, something that many see as stark violation of the election code of conduct and tantamount to discrimination against lower-rung election candidates.
Hiring a helicopter costs around $2,000 per hour on average. The money spent on helicopters easily exceeds within a couple of days the maximum poll expense set for a candidate contesting parliamentary elections under the First-Past-The-Post system. The EC has set Rs 2.5 million as the maximum poll expenditure for overall poll campaigning. But some candidates are spending more than the ceiling within just a couple of days to hire helicopters.
They are using helicopters from early morning till late evening. High-profile leaders have been using the helicopters for weeks. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is using a Nepal Army Super Puma (9N-RAJ) in his capacity as head of government.
CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli and CPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, among others, have been making use of private helicopters.
PM Deuba has been using the army chopper to attend at least four public functions a day in different parts of the country. On Tuesday, he first flew to Tanahu, where he addressed a Nepali Congress gathering at Mirlung. The prime minister then flew to Rupandehi and onwards to Kapilbastu to address other gatherings.
Later, Deuba flew to Ghorahi and Tulsipur Bazaar in Dang before flying back to Kathmandu. On Monday, he had used the helicopter to address the party's mass rallies at Debangunj, Sunsari, Gauradaha, Jhapa, and Myanglung in Terhathum district.
Like Deuba, UML chief Oli also tops the list in using helicopters for electioneering. On Monday, Oli addressed four poll rallies in different parts of the country. Chartering a chopper, Oli hit the campaign trail from Rupandehi and ended the day addressing a rally organized in Banke. Before landing in Banke, Oli addressed yet another mass meeting organized by the left alliance in Bardiya.
"Going by their helicopter flights, it seems some politicians are spending millions in a single day. They are not abiding by the election code," said former chief election commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety, adding, "It's futile to even comment as no one is heeding the election code."
Asked about the EC's flip-flops in enforcing the code of conduct which was endorsed with the consent of the major political parties, Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav said the election body has been compelled to compromise under political pressure. "They asked for helicopters citing security concerns and we reconsidered our stance," said Yadav adding, "Even if they are using an army helicopter we have asked them to furnish the expenditures incurred."
Soon after the announcement of parliamentary polls, the EC introduced a provision strictly barring political leaders from using helicopters. The election body, however, revised the election code after some politicians expressed strong reservations. As per the revised election code, the EC has allowed the use of private helicopters for the prime minister and that too with prior consent from the EC. But against its own stance, the election body has allowed