• Experts say amounts paid by aspirants form big chunk of most parties’ finances
• Politician argues fee is necessary to weed out ‘non-serious contenders’

ISLAMABAD: The upcoming elections are set to become a money-making venture for nearly all mainstream political parties as candidates are being charged ‘non-refundable fees’ for the award of tickets.

For example, PML-N and PTI have both fixed a fee of Rs200,000 each for aspirants seeking to contest elections on a National Assembly seat.

Although the practice has been decried as being ‘exclusionary’ for the common man, as it all but ensures that only those with substantial financial means can take part, there is no law forbidding it, which has become commonplace in Pakistan’s electoral politics.

These fees are separate from the nomination fees that are submitted to the Election Com­mission of Pakistan (ECP) alongside nomination papers. In fact, while the fees charged by various parties have incre­ased over the years (in step with inflation), most proposals put forward by the ECP to raise the nomination fees have been opposed tooth and nail.

In 2013, a draft electoral reform bill prepared by the ECP proposed an increase in the nomination fee from Rs4,000 to Rs50,000 for an NA candidate, and from Rs2,000 to Rs25,000 for a provincial assembly candidate. However, it was opposed by both parties as well as civil society, who saw it was a retrogressive step in the garb of reform.

At the time, critics were of the view that Pakistan’s electoral field has already been captured by the super rich and the so-called reform would marginalise the party workers, who lack financial resources.

But the reality is that one has to be rich if he or she aspires to get a party ticket.

Analysts also point out that big sums are often ‘donated’ to political parties by business magnates to enter power corridors, and observers feel that the fundamental right of citizens to run for public office is compromised when party tickets are awarded on the basis of financial status.

Largest source of income

Pakistan Institute of Legis­lative Development and Trans­pa­rency (Pildat) president Ahmad Bilal Mehboob told Dawn that the application fee for party tickets forms the largest source of income for political parties, as indicated in their audited statements of accounts over the past eight years.

“I personally think that charging an application fee may not be a bad idea as long as there is complete transparency, both from the party and candidates in their statements. I think an application fee of up to Rs200,000 is not unreasonable, but anything more than that will be excessive,” he remarked.

Mr Mehboob said the ECP should insist that each contributor to the election campaign, as well as the party in general, should be identified alongside their CNIC number.

“We hope that the newly revamped political finance wing of ECP will be able to scrutinise all sources of income and expenses of candidates and parties,” he said.

PML-N Senator Irfanul Haq Siddiqui justified the high cost of candidature, saying it was essential to filter out non-serious contenders.

Political parties need funds to effectively run their election campaigns and convey their agenda and manifesto to the masses to enable them to take informed decision, he added.

“We should be realistic while considering the pragmatic dynamics of the elections,” he emphasised.

Income of parties

Prior to the 2018 general elections, almost all mainstream parties generated funds far more than what they spent on campaigning.

According to statements of assets and liabilities submitted to ECP by political parties after the 2018 polls, the PTI took the lead in both arenas, making a quick buck and spending extravagantly.

It generated funds to the tune of around Rs600 million, and spent Rs360m in the election year. Incidentally, the amount spent by PTI was more than the income of PML-N and PPP put together.

According to the data, PTI received Rs334m as election fee and raised Rs193m through local donations and contributions. In addition, Rs65.81m had been collected from overseas Pakistanis in the form of donations, contributions and membership fee, with a major chunk of Rs49.26m coming from the United Kingdom.

The PML-N’s total income in 2018 was over Rs125m, with Rs119m as ticket application fee forming the major component. The party had earned Rs10.85m from tickets in 2017 as well. However, it did not receive even a single penny in donation in 2018 from party workers, who gave Rs9.28m in 2017 as donation.

The PML-N incurred an expenditure of Rs48.23m in 2018, out of which Rs36.93m was election expenses.

The Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP), headed by former president Asif Ali Zardari, earned over Rs100m in 2018, with Rs93.72m being collected in ticket fees alone.

The party spent Rs13.16m in 2018. Though no specific poll-related expenses were mentioned in the statement of assets and liabilities, it spent Rs1.32m on advertisements and publicity.

Ticket fee increase

In 2018, PML-N had fixed Rs50,000 as ticket fee for the National Assembly (general), Rs100,000 for NA (reserved), Rs30,000 for provincial assembly (general) and Rs75,000 for provincial assembly (reserved) seats.

For the upcoming polls, the fee for a PML-N ticket has been revised upwards and now aspirants will have to attach a Rs200,000 bank draft with the application for an NA seat. Likewise, candidates seeking to contest a provincial assembly election will be required to pay Rs100,000 as ticket fee.

A similar fee structure has been fixed by PTI for intending candidates. In 2013, the PTI’s ticket application fee was as low as Rs27,000 and Rs17,000 for NA and PA seats, respectively. A special concession was offered to the youth below 35 years, who were required to pay just Rs7,000 with their applications for seats in both the houses.

However, the application fee was revised in 2018 to Rs100,000 and Rs50,000, respectively, for aspirants for national and provincial assembly tickets and has now been doubled for the upcoming general polls.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2023

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