The beast of ‘Money-power’ is here to stay.

The scenes of almost unbridled excitement outside the Awami League's party office in Dhanmandi, the day it started selling nomination papers - the very next day after the EC came out with the schedule - was almost too exuberant to be true. Everybody wants a piece of AL at the moment, quite clearly. No surer path to prosperity and security is known to exist in the country right now. So why not?

Just let us not be fooled into believing of the numbers teeming outside the grounds of Sudha Sadan, Sheikh Hasina's old lakeside abode, a significant segment would be doing the same thing outside the BNP office. It was just three days or so later that we saw the same scenes in Nayapaltan, after the party officially announced its entry into the fray.

Be it black or white, money and politics have become almost enmeshed, and even in the advanced democracies. The AL charged Tk 30,000 per set of nomination papers, that to me sounded a bit steep. Before the public sector pay scale was raised almost across the board, an MP as his basic monthly salary was making only Tk 27,500! Just a couple of years back. And now nomination papers that would give you a shot at becoming an MP exceed that, or if you like, happens to be more than half a month's salary in the new payscale. Go figure.

The Election Commission (EC), now all busy to hold the 11th national election, says it will require an amount of Tk 700 crore to arrange polls, which is more than double that of the 10th general election. The Commission has recently approved the allocation of Tk 700 crore for the upcoming parliamentary polls likely to be held in late December. In fact, it was incorporated in the EC's budget for the current fiscal, which is more than Tk 900 crore over the last fiscal. So it's fairly easy to see that the EC has been working with this number for some time now.

Of the total expenditure, EC officials said, about Tk 400 crore will be spent on maintaining the law and order while the remaining Tk 300 crore on conducting the election as per the EC's estimate.

In the 2014 general election, they said, the nation spent Tk 283 crore, including Tk 200 crore on maintaining the law and order and Tk 83 crore on conducting the election in 147 constituencies as the rest 153 constituencies went uncontested. The EC announced the schedule for the 11th national election, setting on December 30 after one revision. The EC has a constitutional obligation to complete the election between by January 28 next.

The polls will be held through some 40,199 possible polling stations across the country. Alongside the law enforcers, some seven lakh polls-conducting personnel, including 40,199 presiding officers, some 80,000 assistant presiding officers and five to six lakh polling officers, will be required to arrange the countrywide election.

Of the allocated Tk 300 crore for conducting the next election, Tk 160 crore will be spent on the seven lakh polls-conducting personnel and Tk 30 crore on printing ballot papers for 300 constituencies across the country, the EC officials said.

Besides, Tk 10 crore will be spent on procurement of other printing materials and Tk 8 crore on procurement of stamp pads, different types of seals and ink. EC Secretary Helaluddin Ahmed said the Election Commission has approved the sector-wise allocation of Tk 700 crore for conducting the national election and maintaining the law and order.

Some 10.42 crore voters under the country's 300 parliamentary constituencies are expected to cast their votes in the election to pick the leaders of their choice. In the 2014 general election, the election cost was only Tk 283 crore as the EC did not have to go for balloting in 153 constituencies. The number of country's voters was some 9.19 crore during the 10th general election.

"But this time the cost will be more than double as the EC will have to arrange balloting in 300 constituencies across the country," said an official wishing to remain unnamed. He said the total expenditure was Tk 165.50 crore in the 9th general election, while Tk 72.71 crore in the 8th national election.

The expenditure for conducting the first parliamentary elections held in 1973 was only Tk 81.36 lakh wh According to statistics provided by the EC officials, the nation had spent Tk 2.52 crore in the 2nd national election, while Tk 5.16 crore in the 3rd election, Tk 5.15 crore in the 4th election, Tk 24.37 crore in the 5th election and Tk 37.04 crore in the 6th general election. Even if we consider this last one the starting point- it was the 1991 -there can be no hiding the fact that in this era that witnessed the advent of democracy in our society, our principal exercise that speaks to the commitment to that system of governance costs 20 times more than it did at the start.

Keeping up pretences

A candidate of Dhaka-19 can spend the lowest amount of Tk 3.34 against each voter in the upcoming national election as the constituency houses the highest number of voters among the country's 300 parliamentary seats. According to the electoral laws, though the ceiling of election expenditure for a candidate is Tk 25 lakh, the contender cannot spend more than Tk 10 against each voter, EC Joint Secretary Farhad Ahammad Khan told our sister newsagency UNB.

A candidate in Dhaka-19 will be allowed to spend maximum Tk 25 lakh against 747,301 voters in the election slated for December 30. So, a contestant can spend Tk 3.345 per each voter.

In Gazipur-2, contenders can spend the second lowest amount of Tk 3.35 against each voter as the parliamentary constituency houses the second highest number of voters. There are 745,841 voters in Gazipur-2. As per the EC's electoral roll updated in August, there are at least 25 constituencies having less than 2.5 lakh voters the country. So, a candidate of the constituencies will be allowed to spend Tk 10 against each voter there.

Of the constituencies, the country's lowest number of voters is in Jhalakathi-1 having total 178,785 voters. The second lowest number of voters is in Pirojpur-3 having 189,763 voters and the third lowest in Jashore-6 constituency having 193,534 voters.

The rest 22 constituencies having less than 2.5 lakh voters are Nilphamari-3, Meherpur-2, Narail-1, Bagerhat-3, Khulna-3, Patuakhali-4, Barishal-6, Pirojpur-2, Jamalpur-2, Mymensingh-3, Netrakona-5, Dhaka-4, Narsingdi-2 and 3, Gopalganj-3, Madaripur-1, Shariatpur-2, Moulvibazar-2, Brahmanbaria-1 and 6, Lakshmipur-1 and Chattogram-14.

Among 300 constituencies, there are two constituencies having more than seven lakh voters, two other constituencies having over six lakh voters and eight other constituencies having more than five lakh voters.

The two constituencies having more than seven lakh voters are Dhaka-19 (747,301 voters) and Gazipur-2 (745,841 voters). The two other constituencies with over six lakh voters are Gazipur-1 (664,554 voters) and Narayanganj-4 (651,123 voters). Besides, the eight constituencies with more than five lakh voters are Jashore-3, Mymensingh-4, Dhaka-18, Sylhet-1, Brahmanbaria-3, Cumilla-10, Noakhali-4 and Chattogram-11.

In the 10th parliamentary elections held in 2014, the ceiling of election expenditure for a candidate was Tk 25 lakh, but the voter per capita expenditure was Tk 8.

The Article 44B (3) of the Representation of the People Order (RPO), 1972 states "The election expenses of a contesting candidate, including expenditure incurred for him by the political party which has nominated him as its candidate, shall not exceed taka twenty five lakh." But the same article of the RPO states "Provided further that the election expenses of a contesting candidate shall be determined per capita on the basis of total number of electors in a constituency and a notification to that effect shall be published in the official Gazette.

This time the Election Commission in a gazette notification has fixed Tk 10 as per capita expenses in a constituency. Now the total number of the country's voters is some 104.2 million (10 crore 41 lakh 90 hajar 480). There are more than 2.5 lakh voters in some 275 constituencies in the country. So, a candidate can spend maximum Tk 25 lakh in the parliamentary seats in the 11th national election legally.

Black money abounds

Bangladeshis have long bemoaned the entry and subsequent entrenchment of 'black money' in their politics, including politicians who are helpless to its lure not always out of pure greed mind you. Politicking itself requires a fair amount of capital to start you off, particularly in our part of the world, and especially if you're into electoral politics rather than just advocacy. To be sure, 'black' money in politics is not always corrupt - at times it is merely undisclosed. When people say 'get black money out of politics' - it is the establishment of formal channels of political financing that is transparent and accessible to the public.

In a study conducted by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), it was revealed that in the 9th Parliamentary election scheduled on 22 January 2007 that was later postponed, candidates seeking nominations spent three times higher than the permissible spending limit even before the date of withdrawal of nominations, hen spending for election was illegal. However, the EC neither took any measure to prevent it, nor took any action against the perpetrators for such violations.

In another recent survey of TIB in 40 constituencies highlighting the overspending by the candidates in the national election of December 29, 2008, shows that 88 candidates in the surveyed constituencies spent Tk 4,420,979 on an average during the legal time frame for election campaign. The highest amount spent by a candidate was Tk 28,100,000. Keeping in mind the average expenditure limit, the candidates overspent Tk 3,105,859 on an average. This was the position against the highest expenditure limit of Tk 1.5 million -since increased by another million, to Tk 2.5 million (25 lakh) - by a candidate in a constituency.

In 2006-2007, TI successfully piloted the Crinis, a research, benchmarking and advocacy tool, in eight Latin American countries, triggering a series of debates and reforms at country and regional levels. 'Crinis' is a Latin word meaning 'ray of light'. The project assessed levels of transparency and accountability in political party and election finances looking at laws and practices in the participating countries. Following its success on the diagnostic work on political finance in Latin America, the Crinis Pilot Project in Asia Pacific was launched to explore the possibility of replicating the same in the region. This pilot stage started in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal.

The main goal of the Crinis Pilot Project in Asia Pacific is to contribute to the strengthening of the legitimacy and credibility of democratic institutions by increasing the levels of transparency and accountability in the political finance systems in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal.

According to the Crinis methodology, Bangladesh's mean score is 4.5 (termed as 'regular') (Figure 1). Among the dimensions only the scope of reporting (mean score 9.2) of the parties as well as candidates in terms of law and practice is satisfactory. On the other hand, in dimensions such as bookkeeping (mean score 2.8), reporting (mean score 3.2), reliability of reporting (mean score 2.0), public disclosure (mean score 2.2), and sanctions (mean score 2.2) the scores indicate 'insufficient' in terms of performance.

In comparison to other countries under this study, we see that Bangladesh has the mean highest score (4.5), while Indonesia scored 3.7, and Nepal scored 2.8 (Figure 2). In case of a few dimensions such as bookkeeping, reporting, depth of reporting and reliability, the other two countries scored better. In all the three countries the state of public disclosure and reliability of reporting is insufficient. However, in sum, all these countries have a lot to develop in terms of monitoring political finance and transparency.

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