Shahmir Kazi looks at Paying for elections
Holding Paying for elections to the representative governance bodies is an essential embodiment of democratic conduct practiced in a state. The spirit underpinning an electoral exercise is to ascertain the will of people and accordingly hand over governance process to the political party that succeeds in getting the majority status from the people. In true democratic governance systems this exercise is highly valued and is carried out regularly causing minimum disruption to normal life. In countries like Pakistan elections are interpreted as the most important means to distribute power within different stakeholders of the state. Elections therefore are taken as a balancing act whereby the actual balance is kept by the powerful parts of the establishment and the balance achieved thereof is usually in their favour. Like every other issue in Pakistan, the electoral process is also going through the evolutionary phase and its techniques and procedures are in the process of getting altered.
The current political crisis is all about holding elections though it is now widely known that Pakistani exchequer may be put under pressure to incur large expenditure on the exercise. Faced with unprecedented economic meltdown the country is witnessing wheat flour distribution centres as the country’s fabric is crackling under the weight of political polarisation. It is quite apparent that there are many legal and political impediments that the electoral process will have to surmount but the main issue here is the ability of the state to fit the bill for this national exercise. This point has been raised by the political parties currently heading the coalition government but their opposition emphasises that the economic problems cannot be resolved unless a decisive governance mandate is given by the people and that in its absence the economic downturn will continue to ransack the country.
Though it is known that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) does not make public the money spent on elections held in the past yet it was reported that the federal government cleared a special grant of Rs.47 billion for Elections 2023 earlier but declined the ECP request for an additional supplementary grant of Rs.15 billion. If both the amounts are added then it may be surmised that the electoral exercise may require Rs.62 billion though it may be difficult to spend so much money at the current juncture whereby the government’s financial difficulties are compounded by the government’s flood relief efforts and the census exercise along with allowing for many subsidies.
The number of observers is increasing who express surprise at the obstinacy of the ECP about holding back expenditure figures and their demands are growing for the ECP to open up. They mention that such practice is important to ensure transparency in the affairs of this key institution. Besides, it may prove helpful in building the public trust and support for the body and pressurise the government to duly facilitate the ECP to deliver on its mandate. This secrecy is inexplicable particularly in wake of increased clamoring about corruption and elite capture. It is opined that only ECP can explain the reason for being secretive about its own election budget. It is also emphasised that before the ECP succeeds in enforcing financial discipline in political parties and candidates it must open its own books for public scrutiny and share its audited account reports on the website for easy access to anyone interested.
In the absence of expenditure figures it is reported that a fair assessment could be arrived at that may include printing of election-related material and logistics such as transport, food for returning officers and taking care of local security arranged by the ECP but judging the vastness of electoral exercise it may well be unlikely to give precise total price of it. Though there are a set of uniform formulas applied and rates for articles and services pre-determined that are used by districts, divisions, cities and provinces to project demand yet the levels of variation in such estimates makes it difficult to arrive at a verifiable estimate. It may be kept in view that some services and election material such as security and ballot papers are provided by the federation but others are catered to by the ECP offices at the provincial level and here the situation gets murky.
It is reported that the projected estimates of holding elections have been badly hit by the galloping inflation as is evident by the fact that the reported cost of elections that came to Rs.1.8 billion in 2008 has jumped to around Rs.62 billion. It is quite obvious that any expenditure is surely to escalate and the situation may not be dissimilar to the price of bread that cost Rs.2 in 2008 and now sells for Rs.25. It is therefore not surprising that the average spending over a voter has gone up consistently from Rs.22 per voter in 2008 to Rs.58 in 2013 and Rs.198 in 2013 and now it is estimated to range between Rs.385 to Rs.508 per voter. TW