Election: Countries, including Bhutan, should formulate political finance regulations to curb abuse of money power in electoral frays and provide a level playing field for political parties and candidates.

This recommendation was the culmination of a two-day regional conference on “The Use of Money in Politics and Its Effects on People’s Representation” held last week in New Delhi, India.

The recommendation called “The New Delhi Declaration”, which will be disseminated among the SAARC countries for appropriate use as per local contexts in their jurisdictions, states such financial regulations should cover both routine party activity and the campaign period and apply to both parties and candidates.

Former Chief Election Commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi and Druk Chirwang Tshogpa President Lily Wangchuk, and election officials from India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan among others attended the conference.

The declaration states that provision of public funding – both monetary and in-kind – will reduce dependency of political parties on large, private donors and make funding more transparent and accountable. “Public funding should not be disbursed unconditionally,” the declaration states.

The declaration calls for conscious efforts to support political pluralism. For example, the recommendation states it is good practice that the eligibility threshold for public funding is set at a lower level than that for entering parliament, although a minimum level of support should be required.

Participants agreed that during non-campaign periods, political parties should be required to submit disclosure reports to the oversight body on at least an annual basis. Appropriate technology should be used for ensuring greater transparency, the recommendation states.

“In order to strike a balance between the need for a healthy competition and the level playing field, the financial regulations should protect every legitimate need of political parties, candidates and the citizens,” it stated. These, the recommendation states, should take into account the realistic costs of campaign materials, services and advertising.

Capping and limiting paid electoral and advertising in the electronic and print media has been suggested as one measure to reduce spending that is both effective and enforceable. Such a ban, it states, has been effective in keeping campaign costs down.

The regional conference agreed that political parties and candidates need access to funds to play their role in a democracy. Funds would be required in maintaining a party office and membership base, informing voters of policies and running a campaign.

The declaration also called for recognizing the differential access to, and impact of money, which limit women’s participation in politics, gender sensitive regulations should be put in place to facilitate women’s participation.

MB Subba