LG: A local government (LG) candidate can spend up to Nu 50,000 as campaign expenses. The individual candidates will bear the expenses.

It is however, not compulsory for candidates to mobilise campaign money.

“Some people think that every candidate must spend money,” an election official said. “It’s optional and Nu 50,000 is the maximum ceiling.”

According to the Public Election Fund Act 2008, election campaign funds are only available to candidates of parliamentary elections. “The candidates to the local governments shall not receive election campaign funds from the Election Commission,” states the Act.

The purpose of the campaign fund in parliamentary elections is to curb undue influence of money power on elections and ensure fair elections. However, LG candidates say the same should apply to LG elections.

An LG candidate from Punakha said: “It’s easier to influence an LG election with money than a parliamentary election.” In absence of public campaign funds for LG elections, candidates with money can easily influence the elections, the candidate said.

“I don’t see any rationale behind the clause to bar LG candidates from availing themselves of public campaign funds,” he said. This, he added was one of the many shortcomings of LG elections.

Aspiring candidates say those with wealth will have an advantage over candidates from poor backgrounds. “Most of the LG candidates are from poor economic backgrounds and don’t have the money to pay for campaign materials,” a gup candidate from Tsirang said.

“To deprive the LG candidates of public election funds undermines democracy at the grassroot  level” he said. “I hope Parliament will look into this issue and amend the relevant laws.”

According to the ECB, a candidate for the local government elections cannot exceed his or her election campaign expense beyond Nu 50,000 as fixed in in Public Election Fund Act 2008.

For this purpose, a candidate must open before filing in the nomination papers, an account to be called the candidate “(Name) Campaign Account” with a bank. The details of the account should be submitted to the Returning Officer at the time of filing the nomination.

However, the ECB can waive off the requirement to open a campaign fund account in case of the absence of banking facility in the gewog. Also, if the candidate gives an undertaking in writing that he or she does not intend to incur any election expenditure, there is no need to open the account.

Only a lump-sum amount for financing the campaign expenses, subject to the ceiling will be deposited in this campaign account.

Out of the campaign account, a candidate shall spend only for the 39 activities permitted as election campaign expenses under Section 77 of the Election Fund Act.

The permissible campaign expenses are goods and services required for direct campaign purposes only. They include production of manifesto, introductory leaflets or visiting cards.

Candidates can also spend the campaign money for hiring vehicles for campaign purposes and communication expenses such as telephone, fax and postage.

However, offering or purchase of gift or donations for offices, individuals, business units or any organisation for any other purpose is prohibited.

No fresh expenses from the campaign account shall be incurred by a candidate after the campaign period ends. A candidate shall maintain proper records of expenditure incurred during the elections.

MB Subba