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Why are we still continuing with a 'viceregal' political system? - Rounaq Jahan

Eroding democratic values and Constitution - Dr. M Zahir

Democracy: An unfinished agenda - Dr Kamal Hossain

A case for proportional representation - Rashed Khan Menon

Is majority rule same as democratic rule? - Kazi Anwarul Masud

Responsibilities of majority rule - Muhammad Zamir

The issue is democratic culture - Emajuddin Ahamed

Leaders and politicians - Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

Black money in electioneering - Inam Ahmed

Party nomination on sale - Rezaul Karim

The tale of limping parliament - Reaz Ahmed

Politicians hindering progress - AH Jaffor Ullah

Whither parliamentary standing committees - Shakhawat Liton

Politicians must take blame for failures - Syed Ashfaqul Haque


Antagonism takes precedence over understanding Shakhawat Liton

Thirteen years of democratic experience: Strengths and weaknesses Reaz Ahmad

Distorted political culture Shameem Mahmud

Party constitutions: Rarely followed Rezaul Karim



Black money in electioneering

Inam Ahmed

During the 1996 elections, it got currency faster than fire -- an independent candidate sending gifts that represented his election symbol to voters. They were costly things. When the result came out, he was loser by a wide margin. Hearsay has it that he spent Tk 6,000 for every vote he got.

Elections 2001 saw another interesting fight for votes. Two candidates from Dohar engaged in a bitter fight, and voters saw the most ugly form of colour of money.

September 2003 saw another unique event. The High Court for the first time unseated Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayedee of Jammat-e-Islami from parliament for submission of false statement of his election expenses.

These events only opened up the age old question of containing black and unaccounted for money playing role in elections. These also reduce to dusts people's confidence in politicians' pledges stokes up the memory of 1991 when before the first polls since the fall of General Ershad all parties pledged not to give electoral tickets to people holding black money or those rubbing shoulder with the dictator and raking up millions.

Checking black money in elections is now a tricky issue not only for Bangladesh but for most democracies in Asia. People making fortunes through fair and unfair means are found ploughing in the money to go to power. Names like Jayalalita and Laloo Yadav Prasad will always be linked to such black episodes.

The Election Commission has formulated several laws to curb overexpenditure in elections. A candidate can spend Tk 5 lakh at most for canvassing. They have to submit their source of income, asset statement and income tax statement before polls campaign kicks off. Within 15 days of polls result being gazzetted, they have to submit election expenses, a rule that most MPs ignore.

However, such rules have their own limitations. Under the current circumstances, not a single candidate in a national election can have an effective election campaign with Tk 5 lakh. It is even truer for the big cities like Dhaka and Chittagong where each candidate is known to have spent Tk 5-10 crore. And the Election Commission lacks any effective system to catch the rule breakers, which all the more makes the system meaningless. An opaque accounting system in the body politic makes such efforts even more cumbersome.

The mysterious funding of the political parties also contributes to the rise in use of black money in elections. It is now an open secret that different business groups foot the bill for the parties during elections. But no one knows who contributes how much to the process. This black hole of information opens the scope of commercialisation of politics. When in power, the politicians feel duty-bound to pay back the 'support' they received from the businessmen. Thus a vicious circle of corruption and money power in politics takes root. Here needs some fundamental reforms in the election system. Businessmen may be given some tax benefits for donations to political parties and like in Britain MPs should declare whose interest they lobby for. This may help make the election process transparent to some extent.

But more effective than this would be state funding of the election campaign. This would help cut role of black money in electioneering as the state with the taxpayers' money would take care of candidates' election related expenses. The MPs would remain more committed to their constituencies instead of vested business groups and the taxpayers would have a more dictating terms in what their representatives do. This idea had been advocated more than once by Prof Rehman Sobhan without any serious consideration by the political parties.

But the process has to start from a much earlier stage, may be months and years before an election takes place. It is now a common practice that the ruling party MPs get hefty relief allocations in various forms in the election year. When Awami League was about to leave office for the caretaker government to take over, the cabinet committee meeting on April 23, 2001 allocated 100,000 tonnes of extra wheat for infrastructure development. Each MP and political leader got 500 tonnes of the food for distribution. This is just one of the many indirect ways of influencing the constituencies. In a similar fashion, the BNP government allocated Tk 25 lakh for its candidates in each constituency ahead of the 1996 elections to the 6th parliament.

The bureaucrats aspiring to join politics also resort to similar tactics. Once they make up their mind to get involved in politics, they devise development works in a way that his constituency gets good allocations. In the process, he becomes popular and later, elected. Such practices need to be stopped if election process needs to be cleaned up.

But whatever mechanisms are adopted, rules made and system introduced, the ultimate onus of clean election campaign lies with the political parties themselves. It is high time for them to understand that money will only counter money and will lead to corruption. The stakes will go up every five years with results contributing to Bangladesh making a permanent berth at the bottom rung of the corruption index.
The author is News Editor of The Daily Star.

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