Price of politics

Published November 28, 2023

THE big parties are not at all shy about the high price they have set on political ambition. According to a recent report in these pages, the PML-N and PTI have both set Rs200,000 as the ‘fee’ anyone hoping for a National Assembly ticket must deposit before they are even considered as a candidate. It seems like a rather steep ask for something that does not even guarantee one’s name on the ballot; yet, looking at past trends, it is unlikely to deter many hopefuls from making a bid anyway. While the parties argue that this ‘barrier to entry’ helps weed out ‘non-serious candidates’, the question does arise as to why a politician’s ‘seriousness’ about wanting to represent their constituency is to be measured against their capacity to risk forfeiting a not insubstantial amount of money. Surely there are better, more qualitative means to gauge the suitability of each candidate’s ability to be a strong representative and responsible leader?

Perhaps it is unrealistic to think so. Money, after all, is what makes the world go round, and there is no reason for democracy to be exempt from that rule. To succeed in politics, all parties will need to sink considerable sums into the election economy, and they need a source of funding to be able to do so. Ticket fees are a major source of revenue, especially in a political culture where individual donations are not as common. All the ECP must do to ensure that money doesn’t exert an oversized influence on elections is ensure that campaign finance rules are strictly followed. Spending limits were recently enhanced by the outgoing PDM government to Rs10m for National Assembly and Rs4m for provincial seats. However, many believe they will still not be adhered to. It is up to the ECP to ensure that its political finance wing is sufficiently equipped to enforce the rules impartially and equitably for all contestants.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2023

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