Containing costlier elections an arduous task

election cost

Mahendra Subedi
KATHMANDU, Dec 2: The first phase of the landmark House of Representatives and State Assemblies polls, the first of its kind after the new constitution’s promulgation, were held in 37 constituencies of 32 districts largely in a peaceful manner.

Though there were sporadic incidents of explosion in some districts, no human casualty was reported thanks to strong vigilance of the security personnel against polls disturbers and the citizens’ firm encouraging participation to use their franchise in the elections.

Successful completion of the first phase of federal and provincial polls has paved clear ways for the second phase of polls scheduled for December 7 in terms of more public participation and for a large turnout.

However, with the rise in election fever, the monetary cost of the election has upped excessively, in an almost unnatural manner. And, the entire poll campaigns have become very expensive given the massive mobility of the campaigners, use of large number of vehicles, and excessive costs of food and logistics.

As per the election act, a candidate under the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system can spend as high as Rs 2.5 million while a proportional candidate can spend Rs 1.5 million as per the ceiling. But, this has been almost like a mock while analyzing the ground reality. In-charge of Province No. 1 of the Maoist Centre Gopal Kirati said, “Politicians like me cannot afford the polls cost which is beyond my capacity.”

Reducing the election cost and making the polls more credible and winning people’s trust without use of money is the major challenge and need of the time at present. So, the best way to reduce the cost is ensuring government funding to the parties based on the votes the political parties received in the prior national elections.

Likewise, the trend of donation should be announced an illegal act. “The government should ensure funding based on per vote the parties received in the erstwhile polls by calculating the total costs that the candidates can expense in polls in accordance to the law,” observes Dr Ganesh Gurung, who chaired the Democracy and Election Watch (DEW), Nepal in the Constituent Assembly polls, 2070.

But, the parties should have the status of national party to be eligible to receive the government funding for polls. The political parties can also collect the amount in advance while introducing the system,” Dr Gurung observes.

This practice would ensure value for each vote casted by the voters and, on the other hand, this system would help in the existence of some fringe yet ideologically strong political parties.

Maoist Center leader Kirati told RSS that he did not contest the polls this time due to extravagancy. “I have some political issues for not contesting the polls but the economic issue is also equally serious in my case.”

The election campaigns continue to be expensive and only the economically sound candidates would prevail in the given context and laws. He also pointed flaws in our election system stating that current practice promotes the candidate to be in the frontline while pushing the political party back. “So, departure is needed from this trend,” Kirati said.

The EC has set the ceiling of Rs 2.5 million per candidate in the House of Representatives and Rs 1.5 million in the State Assemblies. As per the EC’s directive, a candidate can spend up to Rs 500,000 each for transportation and office management while Rs 200,000 for mobilization of party representatives. A nominal amount has been fixed for fuels, publicity materials and rest.

But, during offline talks, the politicians admit that the cost for contesting the polls is around Rs 20 million for the elections to the House of Representatives and Rs 10 million for State Assemblies. As per the EC’s ceiling, the candidates are expected to spend nearly 10.5 billion rupees. But, the reality is something beyond that.

However, economists argue that billions of rupees is invested in the elections by the candidates in profligacy and the total polls expenditure, including both formal and informal, is supposed to cross 100 billion.

In order to reduce the high cost generally incurred in polls, Kirati said that opting for the mixed-member proportional representation (MMPR) electoral system is the only way out in which the party gets priority instead of a candidate. “There would be no high cost in the polls once the party gets priority,” he added.

The people’s verdict delivered through the ballots is priceless in a democracy but wooing the people’s to get their support at the expense of money is worthless. This ill practice, which is somehow rooted as a tradition in Nepal, needs to be uprooted without any delay because elongation of this would push our fragile democracy in crisis. So, fair system should be introduced on the one hand while those practicing extravagance should be discouraged socially. Otherwise, this ultimately would contribute to an uproar of a healthy electoral system.