By-elections And Expenditure
The Election Commission is set to hold by-elections for different position at local, provincial federal parliament during November end this year pursuant to the decision taken by the government. The Commission has already submitted the details of administrative, financial and logistical requirements to the government which needs to be provided to the constitutional body for facilitation and management of the impending by elections. The political parties are gradually gearing up for selecting their candidates for the by elections as this is going to be litmus test of popularity and acceptability of the political parties among the people. Since the incumbent government led by Nepal Communist Party leader KP Oli is facing criticism from all quarters for its alleged failures to act to address the needs and aspirations of the people, its showing in the by elections will not only demonstrate popular rating on the government delivery and performance but also presage the political fortune of the contesting political parties in the country.
The by-elections will also be a testing field for the newly consolidated Samajbadi Dal led by Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav as the party leaders claim that their party will emerge as the strong alternative to rival the big two parties-Nepal Communist Party and Nepali Congress. However, parties like Samajbadi Dal, Rastriya Prajatantra and main opposition party Nepali Congress will have to encounter big financial hurdles to contest the by-elections as the ruling Nepal Communist Party has at its disposal relatively stronger financial and organisational clout and strength.
The elections held in federal Nepal during the previous years have confirmed that the costs for election campaigning has gone up in geometrical progression. Looking at the cost issue through retrospective lens, we find that the spending cap for campaign financing in the parliamentary election per electoral constituency held following the introduction of multiparty democracy was pegged at sixty five thousand rupees. But this figure had risen to twenty five hundred thousand rupees for the last federal elections. In fact, expense ceiling for campaign financing should have been lowered particularly for reason of the fact that the publicity and promotional stuff and materials like banner, posters, fliers, wall paintings that used to defile and disfigure the city landscape have been totally banned.
This measure clamped down by the Election Commission has been successfully implemented and enforced. If the visualised publicity materials and promotional materials that used to cost high on the electioneering have been prohibited why should the elections have become so expensive? Then where does the money go? Who pays for the party and candidate to finance the elections that has been said to be very expensive? In fact this is the key aspect for ensuring electoral integrity that the media and civil society should look into carefully and make the truth public.
Moreover, the worrying part of the elections has been the rising official expenses to hold and manage elections that have drained the public resources. For example, the Election Commission allocates a larger fraction of its resources for software packages like monitoring travels and voters education whose usefulness could hardly be ascertained.
The gross violation of the electoral code of conduct is the major problem to jeopardise the integrity of the elections in Nepal. Effective sanctioning is the only way to keep the political parties on track.
The government itself should be responsible for implementing the elections code of conduct as the Election Commission alone has not been able to take punitive action against the powerful political forces. In fact, Section 5 of the law relating to political parties requires the political partiers not to commit acts which undermine the sovereignty or integrity of Nepal, jeopardise the harmonious relations subsisting among the various groups, castes or communities, incite violent activities, provide membership of party only on the basis of religion, sect, caste, tribe or region and accept grant or donation from international organisation, institution, foreign government, person, association or institute. Moreover, it also requires the parties to abstain from acts that violate the code of conduct issued by the Election Commission from time to time. The violation of the code of conduct constitutes the commission of an offence by the political party which definitely should have legal consequences.
Needless to say, a strong willed, assertive and committed Election Commission can expand its space to operate and preserve its sanctity regardless the provisions of the law. During the elections the commission should be able to dictate the government and check it from exceeding its limits. The government machinery should be provided at the disposal of the Commission so that it can prevail to check when there are clear and present dangers threatening the sanctity and integrity of elections.
The Election Commission should be able to check the abuse of the muscle power in the elections so that the candidates from weaker sections and marginalised groups feel safe and confident to contest the elections. Women leaders across the party divides time and again have demanded that the women and marginalised groups should be enabled and not be discouraged from contesting the First Past The Post (FPTP) seats due to the growing use of muscle and money power in the elections. Though there may be need to reform the electoral laws but more critical and important is enforcement of the existing provisions that can go a long way in curbing the electoral malpractices in the country.
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at email@example.com)