Cost of election: Economizing means

Comparison shows that our election is about 147 times more costly than that of India whereas we earn less than half of that of Indians in terms of per capita

During the whole year 2074, we have been celebrating the election fair. From Baisakh of this year when the first round of local election was held until the coming Mangsir, several rounds of elections will be held at the local, provincial and federal levels, and this schedule could still be deferred or rescheduled for the same reasons as for local levels, to make the year-round election fair. Thus, this full year the country is going to enjoy the election mania. However, many development and regular national activities are highly influenced by these elections.

We know, elections are the essential part of a democracy, a vitalizing force. However, we should not forget the cost involved on them both monetary and human resources.

Election spending is becoming extravagant. Estimates show that about Rs. 50 billion was spent for the local election, from the government and candidates’ side.

But private spending may be much higher than such estimates. About the same amount could also be incurred for the coming elections.

Not only money but also a lot of human resource are involved in them. Lot of civil servants are involved, the police and military, EC staffs, and of course we should count the formal and undeclared holidays when for weeks teachers and students of public schools and colleges are virtually absent compromising the quality of education.

What is the economic cost of our election? In a poor country like Nepal where poverty falls 25th  from the bottom position among 225 countries and which is the second poorest among South Asian countries, the cost of election is prodigal.

Sadly, most people and the media overlook such costs, may be in the name of an essential process. But we should discuss and try to economize the cost as elections are regular phenomena.

Even in many rich countries ways to curtail the cost using technology and better management are discussed. The UK-based Telegraph last week published a debate on how to economize the election cost.

According to it, 60% cost was curtailed in the 2017 UK election compared to the 2015 election due to a shorter campaign duration.

The 2014 general election of India was considered the most expensive. For that election, per voter they spent IRs. 17 which is about NRs 27.20.

Now, if we compare our election cost, as per the EC, the per voter government cost in 2008 election was Rs 279 that became Rs 983 in 1991 and now in 2017 it has escalated to Rs 4000.

For security, seven billion rupees was spent in the local election which was only Rs. 2.15 billion in 2008 when the threat from Maoists and vigilante groups was really high.

Beside the high cost for voters education (around Rs. 30.4 million for the local level), a large number of voters were confused by the complex voting process and there were also a lot of invalid votes.

Comparison shows that our election is about 147 times more costly than that of India whereas we earn less than half of that of Indians in terms of per capita.

Moreover, for our local, provincial and federal elections about Rs. 100 billion is estimated to be spent in total which is about 2.6 times more than the total export of Nepal in 2016 and is about twice more than what we annually earn from tourists.

Further, the election spending goes for almost on unproductive purposes. A post-election analysis in India found that 70 percent of the money spent by parties goes for cash payment (to voters) half of which goes for liquor, 10 percent for vehicles, and 10 percent for printing.

Also, there are several indirect cost implications. As the government machinery is mostly absorbed in elections and as the public are diverted more on politics. Market inspection and price regulation is neglected. It resulted in the escalated price hike of food, vegetables and other consumption items.

Most food items and vegetable have doubled their price in the last two or three months. This time the budget was brought one and half month earlier to prevent the ever sluggish development works.

However, according to the Office of Auditor General’s Office in the first and half quarter of this FY only 4.8 percent of the quarterly development target was achieved. Finance secretary in an interview has accepted that this sluggishness is from election.

Are there any economizing means? One third of the total government’s election cost is said to be spent only for meetings, seminars and visits. The recent purchase of luxury cars by EC cost about Rs. 112 millions which was not pre-budgeted by finance as EC had purchased several similar luxury cars only last year.

Use of new technology is totally a missing part in our elections that will have highly reduced monetary cost and human resource. Electronic Voting Machines which were used in previous election in Kathmandu could have been used at least at all urban areas.

Use of neon display at most counting booths could reduce many disputes, as it can inform the huge crowd outside the poll centres that in past created many agitations resulting in recounting. Use of computers to count votes, data processing and result generating will certainly curtail cost.

Despite all these unbearably high cost of election general voters will be relieved if the elected bodies and political parties will be able to bring some tangible positive changes and developments that people could really feel in their life.

Satyal is professor, Department of Statistics