Our parliamentarians have decided to shamelessly increase their own pay and perks, to up to double the current levels. After they get elected, it seems, our MPs start believing that they are the law onto themselves. But while they are involved with so many self-serving parliamentary initiatives—including allocating themselves millions of unaudited taxpayer money in the name of the ill-famed Constituency Development Fund—we hope that they don’t actively resist some much-needed reforms as well. For instance a draft bill that has been prepared by Home Ministry proposes to make political parties pay for damages to public or private property caused by their cadres and supporters. The ministry rightly believes that having such strict laws will discourage political cadres from indulging in acts of vandalism. If a particular party has the audacity to greatly inconvenience people in the name of its professed political beliefs, it is only right that it should also pay for the damages wrought by its cadres in the process of imposing those beliefs. We doubt the bill will be easily passed. But we hope that it does as no less than the legitimacy of the parliament is on the line.
Likewise, the same bill makes it mandatory for central committee members and office bearers of political parties to submit their property details to party office, and ultimately to the Election Commission, within two months of their election to the post. If this can be achieved, it will undoubtedly make the finances of the political parties more transparent. Another related bill makes it mandatory for all political parties registered with the Election Commission to submit their annual audited reports. If a political party fails to do so for three consecutive years, its registration will be cancelled. Similarly, two other bills now winding through the parliamentary channels propose to increase the participation of women at local elected bodies and to publicly fund the election campaigns of political parties. Since women make up more than half of the national population, they should indeed get 50 percent seats in local bodies, as proposed by another bill. Also, evidence from around the world shows that public funding of election campaigns greatly diminishes the role of money and muscle in elections. So this proposed change deserves serious attention, too.
It’s wonderful to know that, amidst the many rotten eggs in our government and bureaucracy, there are also folks thinking of these wonderful initiatives. But even if all the above-mentioned bills are cleared by the parliament, which is by no means certain, there is then the question of actually applying the laws. If the political parties, the torchbearers of democracy, are determined to subvert the system for their individual benefit, the best of laws will fail. This is why there must be a sustained pressure from the media and the civil society to hold our political parties to account. Our political leaders, at the end of the day, are the product of the society we all inhabit. They will be forced to change if they are impelled to do so by the sovereign people. Most of our politicians might have little shame. But we are sure that they also have enough nous to work out their long-term interest.