A statement by Nepali Congress Leader Shashanka Koirala on election spending has once again raised the issue of expensive elections in Nepal which are getting more and more expensive over the years.
On Saturday, in what looked like an honest statement, Koirala, a member of the House of Representatives, said he had spent 60 million rupees on the 2017 election.
“I had spent only Rs80,000 in the first Constituent Assembly [elections]which increased to Rs30 million during the second Constituent Assembly [elections] held in 2013,” he said, addressing a program of the Nepalese Congress-affiliated Nepal Students Union in Kathmandu.
“And the expenditure soared to 60 million rupees in the last election. Would you like to run in my constituency? I’m ready to go,” he said. “We will have to arrange Rs 60 to 70 million.”
Koirala’s statement, however, could put him in trouble, regardless of its safety, as the Electoral Commission had set a spending cap for people fighting in the legislative elections. No individual or party, however, submitted details of the actual expenses to the commission, fearing action.
Koirala’s statement also comes hours after the Electoral Commission enforced the code of conduct for the upcoming local elections.
His remark that the increase in election expenses is a matter of concern is, however, a reality.
“What Koirala said is just the tip of the iceberg. Most applicants passed the cap, but no one was registered,” Binod Sijapati, an economist who led a study on 2017 election expenses for the Election Observation Committee “As Koirala asserted, election expenses have increased significantly with each election.”
The study by the team led by Sijapati had revealed that each candidate winning the federal parliamentary elections under the first-past-the-post system spent an average of Rs 21.3 million against a cap of just Rs 2.5 million. . The finalists spent an average of 14.9 million rupees and the remaining contestants spent 8.5 million rupees.
Those who have studied election financing in the country say that it is primarily corporations and businesses and entrepreneurs who pay money to candidates during elections. They spend the money in the hope that after winning the elections, the rulers would formulate policies favoring them or secure them the construction contracts. This clearly creates space for crony capitalism which has been the scourge of Nepal.
Experts have long said that the more expensive the elections, the more corruption there is in the country. But authorities generally ignored their advice.
“Anyone who finances politicians does so after calculating the return. The winners are then forced to reciprocate and they do so either through policies or by creating an enabling environment,” Sijapati said. “It is ultimately at the expense of the country and the people.”
The commission has set a maximum of Rs750,000 to be spent on a candidate for mayor of the metropolis. However, during a consultation meeting at the electoral commission to discuss the cap on February 10, Keshab Jha, a Loktantrik Samajbadi party leader, said mayoral candidates should be allowed to spend at least 50 million rupees .
“The commission ceiling is unscientific and too low. It is not enough,” he said. “It costs about Rs 50 million to contest the local elections. The commission must allow the candidates to spend the amount.
Moreover, supporters of a particular candidate constitute the second category of people who support him financially, according to observers.
These people are appointed to different political positions by the government, although some of this support is irrelevant.
Candidates who have remained in power are mobilizing the money they have earned through corruption, they say.
“Some candidates spend by selling their property and taking out loans. Once they win the election, they tend to recover the expenses through different means, some of which are blatantly illegal,” Pradip Pokharel, chairman of Nepal’s Election Observation Committee, told the Post. “Increased election spending ultimately promotes corruption.”
Pokharel said he discovered that the money also came from foreign lands during the elections. For example, organizations supporting the Hindu movement overseas support the party that carries the Hindu agenda. Similarly, different non-governmental organizations and international non-governmental organizations are funding the campaign in the name of party building.
“This is possible because the commission does not take strong measures to curb extravagance during the elections. It doesn’t because even the commission’s election spending isn’t transparent,” Poudel said. “There appears to be a mutual understanding between the parties and the commission to remain silent about each other’s wrongdoings.”
Observers say that in the name of expedited spending, the commission’s campaign spending is not transparent and left uninvestigated. In addition to issuing warnings, the commission can even drop the application if it finds that the cap and other codes of conduct have been violated. However, he never did.
Commission officials admit they don’t have a robust mechanism to track the expenses of individual candidates.
“We are monitoring. However, it is difficult to find evidence to establish that the nominees exceeded the cap,” Yagya Bhattarai, co-secretary in the commission’s legal department, told the Post. “Therefore, we have to rely on the reports that candidates submit to the commission.”
Each candidate must submit a detailed report explaining how much they spent during the ballots. All claim not to have exceeded the ceiling.
But if Koirala’s statement is to be believed, he clearly spent above the ceiling set by the Electoral Commission.
The commission had set a ceiling of 2.5 million rupees for each candidate directly vying for a seat in the lower house. The amount Koirala claims to have spent is 12 times higher.
Sijapati says the commission lacks the morale to investigate and take action against the leaders. He argues that spending won’t slow down until the electorate realizes that election extravagance is a mistake.
“This trend is not going down unless people start to question the source of the money,” he said. “I think it will take time.”