The Electoral Commission appears to be roaring, but its ineffectiveness in cracking down on parties and candidates for misdeeds shows that it has broadly turned into a toothless tiger.
The commission released a statement on Friday that it would deploy its observers to the field to gather information on candidates’ election spending.
Experts and analysts, however, doubt the pollster dares to take action against overspending. Overspending – spending more than the limits set by the commission – has become the norm in Nepal in elections that experts have long said fuels corruption.
The commission says it will compare the information collected on the ground with the details of expenses submitted by the candidates after the elections.
Pursuant to section 26(1) of the Electoral Commission Act 2017, the polling authority may impose a fine on a candidate equal to the amount spent by the candidate or the maximum spending limit set by the commission, whichever is greater, in the case of applicants overspending or failing to submit details of their expenses on time. If the candidate does not pay the fine, he will not be able to stand for election for six years and if the overrun wins the election, his election is automatically invalidated, in accordance with Article 26 (3 and 5) of the Electoral Code . Commission Act-2017.
“The law allows the commission to take action against overspending, but I doubt the commission will take action against anyone accused of overspending as there is no history of penalized overspending as far as I know,” said Neil Kantha Uprety, a former election chief. Commissioner.
One of the reasons for the commission’s inability to take action against apparent overspending is that it is very difficult to gather evidence of overspending.
“Without documentation proving overspending, the commission cannot penalize anyone,” Uprety said. “Candidates never submit expense reports to the committee that exceed the ceiling.”
A study by the Nepal Election Observation Committee, a poll monitoring body, found that the average expenditure of a mayoral candidate in the 2017 local elections was $1.73 million. rupees, while a deputy mayor hopeful spent an average of 1.38 million rupees.
The spending limit set by the commission for them ranged from Rs450,000 to Rs750,000 for municipalities and metropolitan cities. The same spending cap was set for them five years later for the 2022 local elections scheduled for May 13.
Binod Sijapati, an economist who led a study of spending in the 2017 election for the Election Observation Committee, told the Post he doesn’t think the commission will be able to take action against the spending. excessive, as it has been passive in taking meaningful action to punish code violators.
“The prime minister and senior politicians from all parties use helicopters for election campaigns,” Sijapati said. “It’s against the code of conduct, but the commission failed to stop the use of helicopters. The commission has failed to make people believe that it can punish those who spend too much.
In accordance with the code of conduct, candidates may use helicopters within the set expenditure limit after obtaining the approval of the commission. A political party can also use helicopters. But only two party election campaign officials can use helicopters by taking the approval of the electorate.
Sijapati also wondered if the cost of helicopters used or chartered by senior leaders would be included in the campaign expenses of local election candidates.
Political leaders themselves have repeatedly admitted that most candidates do not meet the spending limit set by the commission.
In early April, Nepali Congress leader Shashank Koirala, a member of the House of Representatives, said he spent 60 million rupees on the 2017 parliamentary elections.
“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 Nepalese Congress-affiliated Union of Nepalese Students function in Kathmandu. “And the expenditure soared to 60 million rupees in the last election. Would you like to run in my constituency? I am ready to give in. You will have to manage Rs60-70 million.
In the 2017 parliamentary elections, the maximum spending limit for House of Representatives candidates under the first-past-the-post system was Rs 2.5 million. Koirala’s public admission of overspending in the last parliamentary elections prompted the electoral body to ask him for clarification.
In response, Koirala clarified that it was an offhand remark to highlight how expensive elections have become these days, according to Kamal Gautam, an undersecretary at the commission who oversees code-related issues. driving.
Koirala had submitted a report on his expenses to the commission indicating that his election expenses were below the ceiling.
“According to the election expenditure report submitted by Koirala, he spent Rs 2.12 million in the last parliamentary election,” Gautam said.
When the Electoral Commission set the expenditure ceiling for the upcoming elections, some political party leaders demanded that the ceiling be raised.
According to commission officials, it is a fact that no candidate has ever submitted expense details indicating that he or she spent more than the limit. Complaints about a candidate’s overspending also barely register with the commission, they say.
Chief Elections Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya told the Post in October last year that he was not aware of any complaints filed with the commission about overspending by a candidate.
“We would have carried out an investigation if any complaint had been registered. The spending limit is part of the electoral code of conduct and we can only launch an investigation if a complaint is filed stating that there has been a violation of the code of conduct through excessive spending,” Thapaliya told the Post.
According to experts and anti-corruption activists, the increase in election spending is one of the main reasons why corruption thrives in the country.
They say that if political parties and their candidates spend money disproportionate to their known sources of revenue on campaigning, they are more likely to attempt to recoup the money after winning elections, leading to a vicious circle of corruption.
“It’s more important to control overspending because that’s the source of corruption,” said Uprety, the former election commissioner. “Those elected by overspending are not only trying to get their money back, but are also pledging to amass assets to participate in future elections. In doing so, they also make political decisions for the benefit of their campaign funders.
In recent years, reports of alleged political corruption in the decision to buy Security Printing Press and lease government land in prime locations to certain business groups, among others, have made national headlines. .
“When a candidate has to overspend, many candidates cannot spend out of their own pockets. They have to rely on other funders to fund the campaign. after winning the elections,” said Mukunda Bahadur Pradhan, secretary general of Transparency International Nepal, an anti-corruption advocacy group.
Commission officials also admit that overspending in elections fosters corruption.
“That’s why we are taking measures that discourage overspending by candidates,” Election Commissioner Ram Prasad Bhandari said.
According to him, the commission announced that it would carry out a close monitoring of the expenses of the candidates in order to dissuade them from overspending.
“We’re trying to send the message that we’re watching candidates’ campaigns and activities closely,” he said. “This oversight was also necessary because money is the biggest influencer in elections.”
According to Bhandari, the commission will mobilize observers in areas where the risk of overruns is high.
On concerns whether the commission would dare to take action even after finding excessive spending by candidates, Bhandari said the commission would take necessary decisions through consultations among bureau members.
Overspending also leads to unhealthy competition, as it ruins the level playing field.
Experts say that political parties themselves could play a key role in controlling excessive spending.
“They can complain to the committee about other people’s expenses. This can help deter each other from spending heavily on campaigns,” Uprety said.
Pradhan of Transparency International Nepal says it would be better to increase the spending cap by ensuring transparency of funding.
“Candidates do not meet the limit but they do not submit the actual expenditure report,” Pradhan said. “So one way to control overspending might be to raise the cap by ensuring transparency.”