Fighting alienationDuring elections, rational voting has to flourish and negative elements should not be allowed to outweigh positive ones
Governments formed post-1990s have promoted the politics of business associations in order to create a sense of patronage and find funding sources for their political parties. Every government committee has nominees from various associations, thereby making positions in them coveted. Due to its own laziness, the government used such associations to connect with citizens, rather than reaching out to them directly. Associations then started providing many government services on par with those of the state, but by charging fees to fill their private coffers. Over the years, these associations have been run by businessmen-cum-political leaders who canvass and spend the associations’ funds and donations on elections.
A good number of prominent businessmen are contesting the federal and provincial elections scheduled for November 26 and December 7. Likewise, some businessmen are also contesting proportional representation seats by forming associations with various political parties. They have joined the elections with the view of changing the business environment through Parliament. Among the candidates from business associations, a majority are contractors and a few are industrialists, tourism entrepreneurs and overseas entrepreneurs.
During election season, businessmen have to face unmanaged and unsystematic donation collection by different parties. They are trying to adapt to the situation and are formulating different measures to tackle it. Many business people are trying to escape this tradition whereas some are making huge donations to political parties in a bid to get associated with them, and if possible, acquire local election tickets. Political parties do provide tickets with their own vested interest that the candidates will provide donations that can be used for campaigns and other expenditures. Also, people from business houses can influence voters and secure votes for the party.
Private interest groups should not be allowed to influence public policy, and for that, elected candidates should declare their assets and party funds, and campaign financing should be audited. The Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Nepalese Industries have appealed to the government to stop the ongoing unsystematic ways of collecting donations.
The Election Commission (EC) has fixed the campaign spending limits for first-past-the-post (FTTP) candidates in the federal and provincial elections respectively at Rs2.5 million and Rs1.5 million. Likewise, the spending limits for proportional representation (PR) candidates in the federal and provincial elections respectively have been set at Rs200,000 and Rs150,000. However, there have been cases of candidates exceeding the spending limit. It is a fact that money is required to execute publicity campaigns, and large donors have greatly influenced the political process. Donation sources have to be transparent and accountable. Reducing campaign costs has become essential.
Likewise, people who are relatively poor find it difficult to contest the elections because of the high costs involved. Elections cannot be competitive if there exists uneven natural endowments among candidates. The EC’s activities must also be transparent in order to attract public confidence. Developing all-party consensus for the EC’s initiatives, and involving the media, civil society and election observation groups in its activities will help maintain transparency.
There have been news reports about major political parties like the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) giving election tickets to undeserving candidates with criminal records. The concerned authorities must establish the integrity of persons contesting the elections. Candidates with criminal records, lawbreakers and anti-social elements must be disqualified. There should be a democratic mechanism to provide party tickets and take into account suggestions submitted by local party offices.
Looking back at past elections, rational voting doesn’t seem to flourish and negative elements have outweighed positive ones. Likewise, too much party-mindedness has suppressed the individuality of professionals. Nepali voters tend to cast their votes based on images formed by a multitude of impulses, campaign tactics and image shaping of candidates rather than on careful examination of underlying issues and substance. The bandwagon effect seems to prevail with voters casting their ballots for candidates who have a chance of winning. All this has led to a performance crisis. The public is cynical and apathetic about its political leaders.
Adequate civic competence is necessary to revolt against the normalising function of the traditional politics of outmoded values and assumptions, and induce a dialectical play between traditional political theory and need-based politics. Rather than ideologies, Nepalis believe in linkages and networks so as to fulfill their needs, and hence, are divided into various political organisations. The federal and provincial elections are a couple of days away. This is going to be interesting.
- Dhital is a graduate from the University of Delhi