Public Financing of Elections Could be a Game-changer for Nepal

Published On: April 18, 2023 09:30 AM NPT By: Dr Alok K Bohara

Nepal, like many countries, faces the challenge of systemic corruption in various sectors, including politics. As the country strives to strengthen its democracy and promote fairness in the political process, one tool that is gaining some attention is public financing of elections. With the right conditions and robust transparency and accountability measures in place, Nepal can learn from the experiences of other countries and implement public financing of elections to promote integrity in its electoral process.

In Nepal, political parties and candidates rely heavily on “private donations” to fund their campaigns, which can often lead to corruption and undue influence in the political system. Instances have been reported where transactions have occurred in exchange for party candidacy tickets, especially for the proportional list, or even ministerial positions. Public financing of elections, where the government provides funds to eligible parties and candidates, can help reduce dependency on private donations and level the playing field for all candidates. In order for public financing of elections to have a meaningful impact in Nepal, it is imperative that certain conditions be met, particularly considering that the taxpayers are bearing the cost.

First, transparency is a crucial element for the successful implementation of public financing of elections. It is imperative that political parties and candidates provide full disclosure of their contributions, expenditures, and loans, and make this information readily available to the public. Parties and candidates should be mandated to report their campaign expenses in detail to the election commission, and this information should be made accessible to the public through a transparent and publicly accessible website. This ensures that the utilization of public funds is transparent, accountable, and subject to scrutiny, fostering trust and confidence in the electoral process. By providing transparency in campaign finances, parties and candidates can be held accountable for their use of public funds, and the public can have insight into the funding sources and expenditures of political campaigns. This promotes transparency in the electoral process and serves as a safeguard against corruption and undue influence.

Second, parties should be obligated to maintain internal democracy and adhere to transparent rules for candidate selection. One potential approach could involve grassroots members at the local level participating in the candidate selection process through primaries, rather than party bosses making unilateral decisions. This ensures that the voices of ordinary party members are heard and that candidates are chosen based on merit rather than nepotism or favoritism, thus promoting fairness and integrity in the electoral process. Such measures promote fairness, integrity, and inclusivity in the electoral process, reducing the likelihood of kickbacks and corruption and enhancing public trust in the political system.

Third, another important condition is adherence to constitutional stipulations on proportional representation. The proportional list of candidates should reflect gender and/or ethnicity balance as per the constitution, and close relatives of central committee members should not be allowed in the proportional list. This helps to promote inclusivity and diversity in the electoral process and prevents concentration of power within a few families or groups.

Parties that fail to comply with these reporting requirements should face consequences, such as disqualification from receiving public funds, to ensure accountability in the use of public resources.

Finally, in order to promote a level playing field for all parties, both small and big, it is important that they receive seed public funding based on their party membership. This ensures that parties have a basic financial foundation to participate in elections and engage with voters. However, to avoid the perpetual dominance of the winning party and promote fairness in allocation, a more fair and progressive scale could be implemented based on the immediate past election results. For example, parties that perform well in the elections could receive higher funding, while parties with lesser representation could receive proportionately lower funding. This approach would encourage healthy competition and allow for a more equitable distribution of public funds, fostering a dynamic political landscape while preventing one party from gaining excessive financial advantage over others.

Nepal can also draw lessons from other countries that have successfully implemented public financing of elections with transparency and accountability measures. For example, in the United States, the Federal Election Commission provides public funds to presidential candidates (matching funds) who choose to participate in the public financing program, and candidates are required to disclose their campaign finances. Likewise, many state legislatures in the United States have recognized the importance of public financing of elections and have taken significant steps to address this issue. With the aim of reducing the influence of money in politics and promoting transparency and fairness in elections, several states have implemented or are considering implementing public financing programs. For example, states such as Connecticut, Maine, and Arizona have established successful public financing systems for state-level elections. These programs provide public funds to qualified candidates who meet certain criteria, such as raising a certain amount of small-dollar donations. Such initiatives highlight the growing recognition of the need for public financing of elections as a means to enhance the integrity and accountability of the electoral process. France, Germany, Brazil, and South Korea also have similar systems where political parties and candidates receive public funds and are required to disclose their campaign finances to the respective authorities.

Public financing of elections, when coupled with transparency and accountability measures, can contribute to a more transparent, fair, and inclusive electoral process in Nepal. By implementing measures such as disclosing campaign finances, promoting internal democracy in parties, enforcing proportional representation, and requiring full reporting of campaign expenses, Nepal can foster integrity in its political process and strengthen its democracy. As the country continues its journey towards progress and development, exploring innovative tools like public financing of elections can pave the way for a more transparent and accountable political system that truly represents the will of the people.

Implementing stricter qualifications and competency requirements for political candidates, along with transparent and merit-based selection processes through primaries, can attract more energetic, qualified, honest, and educated professionals to join politics as they will see it as a platform to serve the country rather than a means of earning money. Additionally, offering financial incentives, such as higher salaries and benefits, for elected officials who demonstrate good governance and accountability can further attract dedicated and honest individuals to politics, discouraging those who view it as a route for personal financial gain.

As someone who proposed a federal structure for Nepal with a mixed electoral system over two decades ago, I am hopeful that the failures and disaffection witnessed in the current system can be addressed through the implementation of measures such as public financing of elections, transparency, and accountability. By promoting transparency in campaign finances, ensuring accountability in candidate selection processes, and adopting fair and progressive allocation of public funds, Nepal can refine its electoral system and restore public trust in the democratic process. It is imperative that we learn from past shortcomings and embrace reforms that promote fairness, integrity, and inclusivity in our electoral system for the betterment of our nation. With less incentive for corruption and unethical practices through a publicly funded election system, Nepal can experience a reduction in the frequency of government changes and a more stable and accountable political landscape.

As with any constitution, it is important to recognize that it is not a perfect document and may require periodic refinements to adapt to changing times and needs. Many countries around the world have learned from their experiences and refined their institutions over time to enhance their democratic processes. For instance, countries like the United States, Canada, and Germany have gone through multiple amendments to their constitutions to address shortcomings, improve representation, and strengthen democratic values. These refinements have often been driven by the evolving needs of society and the lessons learned from past challenges. In the same vein, Nepal can also benefit from a continuous process of introspection and refinement to ensure that its electoral system remains robust, transparent, and accountable to the people it serves. By embracing a culture of learning and improvement, Nepal can strengthen its democratic foundations and build a brighter future for its citizens.

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