It’s a question that ECB will answer by conducting the 2013 elections of the National Assembly and the National Council candidates
After the letter of intent, 235 candidates will contest for the primary rounds and each candidate will cost Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) more than Nu 0.1mn which is more than Nu 23.5mn for the election campaign.
The Bhutanese learnt that both the election campaigning fund for political party and candidates will not be a problem as the funds are already ready. With the cost of five political parties for the primary round and two parties for general elections added on by 200 National Council nominees, the 2013 election campaign fund will be some 20mn more than the 2008 elections.
The electoral laws of the country will fix a ceiling for the total expenditure that may be incurred by political parties and their candidates. There is also ceiling fixed for contribution offered voluntarily by any of its registered members to a political party.
ECB will as well in a non-discriminatory manner make public election fund payment to candidates contesting elections to National Assembly and political parties subject to the provisions of the Election Fund Act.
“The fund just suffices and we have no complaints. But the party budget later on is not enough for visiting constituencies, office maintenances and now not even 2% of the members have renewed their memberships, it’s a hard day ahead,” said Wangduephodrang MP Passang Thrinlee.
On members funding the party and setting of ceiling for it, he said that “we would be happy if the member even gave something close to the ceiling amount”.
On the increased candidate budget of more than Nu 0.1mn, he said that the amount was huge and it wouldn’t be necessary as there are easier ways to do campaigning with less budgets but running a office is another thing.
For running a office, he said that he strongly supports state-funding and it should be supported by all- “I will put a motion for it, it is really not easy to make ends meet,” he said.
In the PDP & DPT case, they filed accounts with the ECB last year to clear their pending debts, which had to be mandatorily cleared according to the ECB-set deadline of June 30 last year.
This was a criteria needed to be fulfilled by the two parties to become eligible to run in the 2013 elections.
In clearing the bills with financial institutions and media houses the ruling government says the party collected Nu 0.2mn from the ministers and Nu 0.1mn from each MPs including 10% of their salary each month and some minimal amount from the voluntary contributions.
Earlier DPT cleared Nu 20,396,428.57 in debt. On the other hand, PDP settled liabilities of Nu 22,838,436.50 it owed to its former president (Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup) and various debtors of Nu 17, 623,440.27.
MPs also say that many of their registered members of their constituencies have not renewed their membership form which is just Nu 50. Not more than 2% of the members have renewed their membership.
On these terms, DPT has reduced its membership fees to Nu 50 and registration fee to Nu 50 and PDP has increased its membership fees to Nu 100 and membership fees to Nu 1,200. The reasons are not that not many are renewing and expenses are not enough to run an office.
ECB will be monitoring the funds to avoid any kind of interest group affecting the functioning of the party owing money to them. ECB will also make sure that the parties campaigns are not entirely funded by wealthy individuals, external funders, trade unions or business associations as such funding is illegal in the electoral laws of Bhutan.
Rugged terrains in Bhutan and elections in swampy monsoon will hinder proper campaigning and far-off corners of the country will be arduous to travel to.
The purpose of allocating the Public Election Fund, through nondiscriminatory State financing of election campaign to parliament, is to:
Ensure equal and wide participation of all interested and qualified candidates and registered political parties;
Curb undue influence of money power on elections;
Prevent the unregulated flow of funds from questionable sources into political contests; and Ensure clean, free and fair elections and National referendums
Electoral laws do accept voluntary contributions as tax exemptions for the donor.
Meanwhile, Ceiling on Election Campaign Fund for Parliamentary Elections 2013, for each candidate to the National Council will incur more than Nu 0.3mn. including the campaign funds and sundry activities.
During the 2008 elections, the amount spent on a candidate was about Nu 0.2mn. Similarly for the National Assembly elections for 2013, expenditure on individual candidates is estimated to be about Nu 0.3 m including the campaign funds.
In the 2008 election, the cost was about Nu 0.1mn.
Puran Gurung & Sangay Choezom / Thimphu