Election expense ceiling made a farce of
It is something of a heartbreak. The election that we have been so proud of and which earned wide international acclaim for being a massive demonstration of a people's right to franchise was not without a blemish after all. A TIB survey covering 88 candidates for 29 December parliamentary election pronounces the message loud and clear: 87 percent spent on average Tk 44 lakh to come out winner as against the stipulated ceiling of Tk 15 lakh. Just how fiercely competitive the money spending spree got is exemplified by a single candidate spending Tk 2.81 crore. Thirteen percent that kept within the expenditure limit were all defeated.
True to the nature of things, the expenditure reports lately submitted to the EC by Awami League, BNP and Jamaat are widely at variance with the survey findings of the TIB. The high figures of overspending are themselves morally and legally indefensible, let alone the political parties seemingly underreporting them to the EC. More so, because the political parties were duly involved in setting forth the electoral expenditure limit and obligations to report expenditure to the EC.
Where is the change in political culture when election continues to be the game of moneyed people and when the political parties encourage it? The huge expenditure incurred by the winning candidates would not match the declared assets of many of them. Either the parties underwrite them or there are people who sponsor them from behind. Political parties often react to civil society pressures for change and reform by griping that politics is going out of their hands. But here they have an underbelly of opportunistic financiers bank-rolling candidates to rake in disproportionate return. Thus, the influence of money may not be confined to elections alone, rather it may spill into the parliament and the secretariat as the seat of government.
In our reckoning, therefore, it is incumbent on the Prime Minister to delve deeper than the surface and go into the details of electoral funding of AL candidates to realise what risks she might be confronted with. That the real glory of electoral victory is sadly undermined by the moral degradation and corruption seeping into the process of election is too evident to be brushed aside.
For all practical purposes, it is not for the Election Commission to free politics and election of the strangleholds of corruption and money power; it is for the political parties to do so of their own volition and in their own best interest.