In a bid to keep frivolous contenders out of the electoral race, a National Assembly panel is set to recommend a hefty hike in the official fee to contest polls.
Under the existing legal framework, official fee to contest elections at a National Assembly (NA) seat is only Rs4,000 while Rs2,000 is the amount charged for contesting election for a provincial assembly or the Senate’s seat.
However, a multi-party parliamentary panel, working on electoral reforms, has now agreed to enhance the fee for contesting an NA seat to Rs50,000, a provincial assembly seat to Rs25,000 and a Senate seat to Rs10,000. The proposal to increase the amount is part of the draft of reforms the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had sent to the committee.
The ECP believes that the number of registered political parties has already crossed the 300-mark while many non-serious candidates also enter in the election contest, causing unnecessary logistic issues.
Besides serious contestants, many join electoral race for various motives by taking advantage of sloppy election laws. Among these is the law that prescribes a fee to be submitted to the national exchequer at the time of filing of the nomination papers.
This fee is confiscated if a contestant fails to bag one-fourth of the votes secured by the winner. The ECP believes that the increase in fee might discourage some non-serious contenders now. The polls body says that non-serious contenders also create many logistic issues.
In some instances, 40 to 50 contestants participate in polls for one seat. The name and election symbol of every contestant is printed on the ballot paper and voters are supposed to choose from among these candidates. Due to large number of contestants, the ballot paper becomes too big and confusing. Additional contestants also add to the cost of polls as millions of ballot papers are printed in general elections. They also make it difficult for the ECP to maintain the records of every contestant.
The parliamentary committee has also decided to change the law that deals with confiscation of security deposit of a contestant. The exiting limit of getting one-fourth of votes polled to the winner will be reduced to one-eighth.
Poll campaign expense limit
The parliamentary panel has also decided to increase the current unrealistic bar of election campaign expenditures. Existing laws stipulate that candidates running for a National Assembly seat can spend a maximum of Rs1.5 million in their election campaign – a limit flouted by most contestants.
Similarly, candidates for provincial assembly seat should keep their campaign expenses below Rs1 million, as per law. After amendment in the relevant law, Rs3 million limit of election campaign expenses will be fixed for contestants on a National Assembly seat and Rs2 million for a provincial assembly seat.
There is currently no mechanism to verify statements of election expenses, which a victorious candidate has to submit to the ECP a week after the polling day. Once a returned candidate submits details of election campaign expenses, the commission officially notifies him/her as member of assembly. The elected members cannot take oath before this official notification.
The ECP has proposed that every candidate should open a separate bank account for election expenses and every poll- related expense be carried out only through that account.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2015.