Political Finance System in Pakistan

Since the results of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s investigation into the PTI’s foreign funding case became public, there have been more calls for reforming the political financing system, including making sure it is being watched. But even though many of the loudest voices making these claims, like the PTI’s political opponents, seem to have a direct stake in the game, the truth is that rumours have been spread about the finances of most of the major political parties as well. Activists and others have been calling for reforms for decades, but the powers that be have mostly ignored them.

Elections that are fair and run well shouldn’t be a partisan issue. But unfortunately, failure to update election and political financing laws or even to enforce the ones that are already on the books is a failure of both the political parties and the bureaucracy as a whole, because it deprives citizens of their basic rights and makes it so that truly independent candidates from middle-class or poor backgrounds can’t compete with the big guns. But maybe that’s the point: to keep the power elite in their positions and make sure they stay in line.

Over the weekend, open government and election transparency advocates at the Free and Fair Election Network, or Fafen, also talked about how political parties inside and outside of parliament need to strengthen regulations to make it harder for big spenders to “buy” elections. They warned that letting big spenders spend without consequences takes away citizens’ right to run for office and skews election results in favour of big spenders, even if they are backed by billions of dollars.

The current law about elections, the Elections Act of 2017, is the first thing that is wrong with the system. Even when inflation is taken into account, the act’s grants of regulatory power are weak, and it can be directly blamed, along with the people who wrote it, for the fact that the 2018 general election was the most expensive in U.S. history. Since then, byelections and local body elections have also seen spending levels that have never been seen before. This has the effect of giving the ultra-rich more power, whether they run for office themselves or fund political parties. Spending limits that are strictly enforced can be a problem in larger districts and places where advertising costs are higher, but they are still probably the easiest place to start.

Another thing that needs to be looked into is how open donors are. This could be done with a public database that parties and candidates have to keep up-to-date with information about every donation they get and how it is spent. The same would be true for private groups and people who pay for political campaigns on their own. As long as the penalties are pretty serious, they would be enough to change the way people campaign in Pakistan, making it cleaner and, hopefully, a little more fair.


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