Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Asghar Khan Case and the Campaign Funding

The decision (the Decision) in the Asghar Khan's case is a welcome one. Without going into the moral and legal implications of the decision, I would like to consider this an opportune time to open a debate on the public and private funding to the political parties.

The Spending Limits

Presently, the legal provisions on this area are contained in section 48 of the Representation of People Act, 1976. This section limits the election spending to one million for a provincial and, one and half million for a national constituency.

For starters these limits are unrealistic and are not followed. This creates a handicap for the law abiding who wants to follow the law. But those who have no regard for the law, have no care for the limits set and openly exceeds the limits set.

Accordingly, it would be better to either remove these limits or to increase them to realistic level so that the law abiding can compete with the law breakers without the fear of attracting penal consequences.

These limits encourage corruption and the corrupt and does the opposite for the law abiding as is clear from the Decision.

Since the experience has proven that there is no way to regulate the election expense thus it makes perfect sense to create a level playing field for the corrupt and the honest.

Private Funding

Another aspect of keeping the present limits is that the parties and the candidates hide the sources of funding that they receive. This allows the hidden hands of the mighty, who can escape the law, to play their part in the electioneering but discourage those who have sympathy for one political party or the other but do not donate because of their respect for the law.

By removing the limits and allowing the donations to the political parties and the candidates, we can remove this distortion in our political system.

It would also make sense to treat such donations as donations to charities for the purposes of income tax. That is to say such donations should be excluded from the income chargeable to tax.

Public Funding

The third aspect of the Decision is that the state sometimes feels the need to fund the political parties in order to provide a true choice to the voters. However, because of the lack of legal cover for such funding this is done underhand and behind the closed doors.

It will be far better to introduce a system of public funding for the political parties than to find ways to break the law.

Such a system will remove and/or limit the influence of the big money on our politics. A middle class party will be able to follow its ideals without compromise.

There are many models which we can choose to follow.

However, the best approach in our current scenario for 2013 elections will be to fund all the political parties in proportion to the number of candidates that they validly field.

After the 2013 elections the system should be changed to fund the parties in proportion to the votes that each receives.

These reforms are necessary to remove the distortions from our system and will encourage the people to follow the laws.

I end by stating an ancient principle of law making: 'only such laws should be enacted which are to be followed'!

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