By-poll breach: Unchecked campaign spending raises questions | The Express Tribune

The following mention appeared in The Express Tribune on July 17, 2022 at the following link

With campaigning for the by-polls now wrapped up, candidates will now anxiously wait for their supporters and respective vote banks to tilt them towards a victory but little will be asked of how much was actually spent to gain a win.

As per the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) code of conduct and the prevalent laws, there is a bar on how much candidates can spend in the course of campaigning so that there is an even playing field for all. However, despite the laws yet again campaign finance rules were flouted, in the 20 by-election constituencies, to arrange mammoth jalsas, organise corner meetings, and to put up banners and posters in every nook and cranny.

“Until there is transparency in campaign finance, the common man will not be able to contest elections,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President PILDAT.

The Express Tribune spoke to several ECP officials regarding campaign finance rules and learned that as per the Elections Act 2017, a limit of Rs 2 million in spending has been set for an Member Provincial Assembly (MPA) election. However, the officials, speaking under the condition of anonymity, conceded that there is no mechanism to gauge what candidates actually spend during the course of their campaigns.

The officials’ admission does not come as a surprise to Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), who said that campaign finance rules have been ignored for a long time. “Perhaps, we should learn a thing or two from India, where the election commission is empowered and strictly enforces expenditure rules.”

When asked for suggestions on how to improve ECP’s oversight into campaign financing, he replied: “District monitoring officers or committees should monitor the expenses of candidates on a daily basis and publish their monitoring reports online for the public to access. This will ensure transparency.” Mehboob, was of the view that until such transparency exists, the common man would never be able to contest polls. Mohammad Zeeshan, a voter from NA-158 constituency, agrees with the assessment, informing that word on the streets was that an election campaign costs anywhere between Rs 50 to Rs 100 million.

“The number does not seem unrealistic. All the big rallies, the endless food, and a plethora of banners and posters comes at a massive cost. The common man can never represent his constituents if that sort of money is involved.” Usman Chaudhry, who will cast his vote in PP-167 Johar Town, concurring with Zeeshan, told the Express Tribune that politics was a field for those with deep pockets and he longed for a day when the ECP would have a spine to enforce election rules. When asked about this lack of enforcement of campaign finance rules, the man of the hour, Saeed Gul, who is Punjab’s Election Commissioner, informed that the ECP had already appointed District Monitoring Officers, who have monitored candidates’ expenditure on rallies and other matters and will now send a report to the Election Commission.

“The law is clear. Anyone who wishes to contest, opens a bank account which is used for election expenses only. Candidates have to provide each and every detail of the expenses they have incurred.” When asked what happens after the candidate has provided the details, Gul said that the ECP scrutinises the expense incurred forms submitted and if it fails to see any irregularities then the candidate is cleared. “However, strict action is taken against those who do not either submit their expense details or cross the spending limit,” Gul told The Express Tribune.

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