Candidates spend millions in elections; where does the money come from?

NL Today

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: Nepal’s political sphere, in recent days, has seen a lot of commotion about a probable early election to the House of Representatives as it is evident that the KP Oli-led government is in favor of it. PM Oli dissolved the Parliament and announced fresh polls, but the move was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

His actions clearly depict the zeal to hold a parliamentary election at any cost.

Prime Minister KP Oli, in his recent interviews and speeches, has been advocating the need for an early poll. And, the opposition parties have been left only with three options— overthrow the incumbent government, let the present government serve a full tenure, or go for an early election.

Political analysts say the country is likely to go for polls given the power equation in the Parliament after the apex court didn’t acknowledge the unification between UML and CPN (Maoist Center) to form Nepal Communist Party (NCP) that had enjoyed a comfortable majority.

This has again brought the discourse of election-related issues to the forefront, election funding being one of the contentious issues.

Unclear election campaign funding
No leader, regardless of how clean or corrupt their image is, can contest the elections without massive funding. But election expenditures are rarely transparent. Parties or candidates are never in favor of conducting a poll transparently, and their reluctance has added more to the obscurity in the election campaign funding.

“The culture of impunity has supported the fogginess in the election funding. In addition, the Election Commission is incapable of monitoring and punishing the guilty by scrutinizing the expenditures,” says Bhojraj Pokharel, former Chief Election Commissioner.

The funding used by the political parties has always been murky, especially when there is an election ahead. The probe on the political parties’ expenses and sources of funding have been scant.

In the first democratic election in 1991 after the abolition of the Panchayat system, the candidate spending threshold was Rs 65,000. The threshold was later raised to Rs 500,000 in 2008 and Rs 1 million in 2013. In the previous parliamentary election, the threshold was Rs. 2.5 million.

A report by a civil society group Samuhik Abhiyan titled ‘Campaign Expense Monitoring during the House of Representatives Election, 2017 says 57 percent of the candidates spent more than the stipulated spending limits.

The excess amount spent ranged from three to 136 percent over the legal spending limits. More than two-thirds of the candidates exceeded at least some of the categorized spending limits, the report had stated.

Moreover, according to the same study, the average vote percentage of the candidates who exceeded the spending limit was 41%, while the candidates who spent below the limit received an average of 19% of the vote. This signifies the close correlation between higher spending and higher vote share.

According to the Study on Election Campaign Finance, 2017 conducted by Election Observation Committee Nepal (EOC-Nepal), candidates spent more money on the elections than political parties and the government combined.

The data shows the more the candidates spent, the more was their chance to win.

The average expenditure made by the winning candidates in the federal election is higher (Rs 21.3 million) than the average expenditure made by the runner-up candidate (Rs 14.9 million) in the federal elections.

The trend clearly depicts a situation where elite groups dominate the election results and access to political decisions. Ultimately, this has led to the opaqueness in the election campaign funding.

“The main culprits behind the murkiness in election campaign funding are the governing representatives and policymakers, irrespective of their parties.
None of them work out to make the election campaign funding systematic if doing so limits their capability of exploiting powers,” says Deepak Gajurel, a political analyst.

Obscure sources

The next important matter that remains obscure during the election is the sources of funds.

Gajurel, for his part, strongly believes the murkiness in the election campaign funding shows discrepancy in the source of funds.

“Opaqueness in the election campaign funding means, the sources of fund are most probably not legitimate,” says Gajurel.

Pokharel carries similar opinion as Gajurel’s regarding the sources of funds being always obscure in every election.

“Our laws and policies only focus on the procedures and processes but not on the source of the money,” he rues, adding that monitoring the sources of money can be a major way out to make an election transparent.

“EC and the political parties are bonded as a family. And, the bond might cause difficulty to take actions against each other,” Pokharel adds. In such case, he suggests an idea of establishing an independent entity to check and balance the election campaign funding.