Recovering the expensesLudicrous election campaign costs provide legitimacy to political corruption
Transparency International Nepal has named Nepal’s political parties as the most corrupt body followed by the legislature, police, judiciary, tax office, business sector and customs. Increased corruption neither consolidates democracy nor ensures governance. Political corruption begins with the election campaign and provides legitimacy to political corruption.
I was actively involved in the election campaign during the first round of local body elections held on May 14. During a door-to-door campaign with candidates for the posts of ward chair and members, I hardly heard voters asking them about long-term programmes related to public goods or policy issues. Almost every household asked them if they could fulfil their immediate personal needs and interests. Everyone had their own personal priority—jobs for their children, building toilets, paying medical costs and many more. In the evening, youths and elderly people often demanded that a dinner party be held for them.
In most cases, candidates had to fulfil the immediate demands of the people. And it was a regular routine for them to organise parties for the people. These immediate personal demands of the people not only add an unnecessary financial burden on the candidates, but also discourage better candidates without ample financial resources from standing for election. This trend further creates a deficit of better candidates in an election which obliges people to select the best among the fair candidates.
The immediate personal demands apparently seem to be a burden, but they have many functional aspects. First, getting some personal instant benefits and attending dinner or lunch parties helps confirm who belongs to which party. People who get instant benefits have a higher attendance rate at the electoral campaign than those who do not take any instant benefits. Thus, fulfilling the instant demands of the people helps to create an electoral context. Fulfilling instant demands not only increases loyalty but also demoralises voters. Once voters have taken personal benefits from the candidates, they can’t raise questions about their accountability and bad deeds.
This eliminates the sovereignty of voters. They can’t think about whom to vote for. Hence, voters are morally unable to make a fair decision.
Fulfilling the instant demands of the people makes it legitimate for the candidates to indulge in corruption during their entire tenure. Voters who take instant benefits during the election campaign forfeit their right to make the candidates accountable. Voters can’t raise questions about corruption and their work. Voters are forcing candidates to bear unnecessary election costs which fosters political corruption. In this way, corruption starts from the election campaign.
The practice of trying to get one’s instant demands fulfilled is a problem for which we often blame the common citizens, but few think about the hidden factors that cause such trends. The first premise of democracy is that ‘democracy delivers’; but in Nepal, democracy never delivered anything to the people, and political party elites monopolised democracy for almost two and a half decades. Hence, the charm and essence of democracy never reached the common people; and they never had a chance to taste the fruits of democracy. Democracy became a system to feed the elite.
The performance of Nepal’s political parties has been observed to be very poor, and hence their image among the people is not positive. Particularly after the restoration of democracy in 1990, the parties and their leaders consistently failed to address the people’s hopes and aspirations. Severe groupism, inter- and intra-party feuds and frequent changes in government did not help consolidate democracy. This kept democracy in Nepal in transition for a long time. Thus, political parties and leaders lost almost all trust among the people.
IDA Public Opinion Survey 2015 has placed political parties in the last position among 21 public organisations. Lack of trust in political parties and political leaders constructed a psychology of making instant demands among the people. People do not believe the promises made by political parties and their leaders during the election campaign. People think that they might not see the candidates again after they win the election. So they make it a point to get whatever they can from them during the election campaign.
Lack of follow-up visits after the election has also created a gap between the people and the candidates. Once they are elected, they hardly come to the people’s door to discuss their problems. This mostly happened after the Constituent Assembly elections because all the candidates moved to Kathmandu, and they only made occasional visits to their constituencies.
After local elections, the winning candidates remain in their own areas. But there were no elected representatives for two decades, and the all-party mechanism political syndicate ran the local bodies. During this time, the people almost lost their connection with local representatives. Holding local elections after two decades not only created a gap between the party and the people, but also a huge leadership gap. This created a kind of frustration between the party and the people.
The electoral gap, lack of trust in political parties and lack of follow-up visits to the constituencies created a mass psychology of getting instant and personal demands during the election campaign. This psychology becomes further complex when political parties and leaders treat it as an opportunity to manipulate votes, increase loyalty and confirm the number of potential votes during the election. The practice among voters of getting their personal demands fulfilled during election campaigns not only gives public legitimacy to political corruption but also fosters political corruption.
Mahato is a PhD final year student at the Graduate School for Social Research, Warsaw, Poland and Ohio State University, USA