Money, Parties and Elections —Mariam Mufti


Apart from studying the candidate’s political capital within the constituency, and his services to the political party, the most important criterion is whether the candidate can finance his own electoral campaign
In a democratic polity, politicians want to win elections; whether they are free or fair is immaterial. Winning an election provides politicians with access to state resources that, first, help sustain the politician’s political career; second, enable him to patronise his constituency so that chances of re-election can be retained; and third, consolidate and further develop a politician’s capacity to exercise political power.

A political party that consists of a lasting coalition of politicians constantly fielding candidates for legislative or executive offices also wants to win elections. Parties enable politicians to provide voters with cheap ways to choose among the candidates who are likely to pursue their own objectives. Political parties therefore play an important role by resolving the collective action problem through pooling resources and allowing politicians to run their electoral campaigns under a joint label. As a political party wants to ensure that it wins a majority of seats in both national and provincial assemblies, the selection of the candidate who will run on the party ticket is a crucially important process.

Apart from studying the candidate’s political capital within the constituency, and his services to the political party, the most important criterion is whether the candidate can finance his own electoral campaign. Money makes the world go round; in Pakistani politics, this rings even truer. National level politics has become the preserve of those who can afford to dabble in it. Candidates are known to spend exorbitant amounts of money on their electoral campaigns — perhaps because the costs of running a campaign in today’s technologically advanced world are higher, but also because there is a widely held belief that a strong direct relation exists between winning and the amount of money spent.

There are several reasons for this:

Structurally, Pakistan’s political system is based on clientalism; the promise of material gain, monetary transfers, gifts in kind, jobs in the public sector, preferential treatment in the allocation of social benefits, if the candidate voted for wins.

Intuitively, therefore, winning candidates are those whose past reputation and largesse precedes them. More often than not, they will belong to the land-owning elite in the rural areas and the slightly more professional offshoots of the original land-owning families in the urban areas.

To become an electoral candidate, the politician has to submit a ticket application fee of approximately Rs 30,000 for a national assembly seat and Rs 20,000 for a provincial assembly seat.

For the 2008 election, parliamentary boards responsible for the ticket distribution of the two main parties met in London. Hence, not only did the hopeful candidate have to foot the ticket application fee but also the cost of travelling to England. These costs automatically preclude a majority of party workers from climbing up the ladder of party rank. It is also interesting to note that the ticket application money collected by the political party is often not spent on the electoral campaign of individual candidates but saved to run party offices during non-election years.

Institutionally, political parties have no funding mechanism. They are dependent on the monetary donations made by the wealthier members of the party, who see it in their best interest to fund the party and gain prominence in its leadership and decision-making. If the party sustains itself and wins the election, then it is these members who are given powerful government posts or are chosen to play the role of kingmakers from the sidelines.

The lack of any state subvention to parties or any formal mechanism of funding is also explained by the desire of the military and civilian establishment to ensure that political parties are unable to sustain themselves in the long-term. Even if one is to believe the involvement of intelligence agencies in funding the campaigns of certain political parties to break the vote banks of other parties, there money is used only as a carrot by the establishment to ensure control over the party system of Pakistan.

Organisationally, political parties are weak. Here, I refer to the capacity of parties to participate at the grassroots level. Since there is a lack of money to run party offices, most organisational work is done on a voluntary basis and hence not much is achieved. It is dependent on a party worker’s opportunity cost in time and effort.

If organisations were to be stronger, membership drives would be more effective and less costly, opportunities for external funding would become readily available and the costs of running electoral campaigns would decrease. For example, in Lyari, the traditional stronghold of the PPP in Karachi, the party organisation at the tehsil and union council level organises and funds the corner meetings, rallies and jalsas, a cost that is otherwise borne by the individual candidate.

However, one needs to be cognisant of the differences in rural and urban constituencies as well. Transport costs in rural areas are higher, yet because a candidate can rely on his vote to be consolidated on narrower local interests such as biraderi or tribal affiliation, the need for advertisements does not exist. In urban areas, accessibility is not a problem. However, in order to mobilise voters, expensive media campaigns need to be undertaken.

Lastly, if a politician is aware that keeping all other factors equal, the chances of winning or losing an election are equal, why would he be willing to spend such a huge amount of money?

Most candidates are aware that elections are not a one-off game. In the event of losing one particular election, a politician knows that the performance of his electoral campaign and the impact that it creates is likely to help him in the future. He is also given the opportunity to reassess other contextual factors and is presented with three choices: one, if the candidate and his party have lost, to stick to his political party and consolidate his vote bank in order to win the next election with anti-incumbency advantage; or two, if both candidate and party have lost, for the candidate to switch parties and run the next election on the winning party’s ticket; or three if the candidate has lost but his party has won, to hope for party patronage to sustain his political career.

In the event of winning, the gains to be made are significantly higher than what was initially spent on attaining that position of political power. Having access to state resources, a politician can take money from people in exchange for getting them jobs. Part of that money lines his own pocket, and the rest lines the pockets of the bureaucrat and relevant ministers involved. Another way to make money is getting contracts for the supply of goods and execution of development and construction projects. Providing these contracts to friends and family is not only a way to dole out patronage but also a way of earning money informally.

Mariam Mufti is currently working on her doctoral dissertation on the party system of Pakistan at the Johns Hopkins University

Source: daily times, 4/8/2008

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