New Report on Campaign Finance Monitoring in Nepal
Limiting candidates’ campaign spending can play a major role in making elections more inclusive. The cost of campaigning is often a major deterrent to the political participation of women and marginalized groups with limited access to economic resources. While Nepal’s election law includes campaign spending limits, the public perception is that they are neither followed nor enforced. In an effort to provide fact-based evidence about candidates’ election spending, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) civil society partner Samuhik Abhiyan conducted a campaign finance monitoring mission during Nepal’s December 2017 House of Representatives elections. With the launch of their report on May 18, 2018, Samuhik Abhiyan revealed that over half of candidates monitored exceeded the legal spending limits.
As the first such monitoring mission in Nepal, the project represented a pilot test of just Kathmandu-based candidates, using the parallel expense tracking methodology developed by IFES Senior Political Finance Advisor Magnus Ohman. Samuhik Abhiyan’s 15 observers monitored 30 candidates for first-past-the-post seats in the House of Representatives over the 30 days leading up to Election Day. The observers attended the candidates’ campaign events and then estimated their total expenditure based on predetermined standard unit costs for the expenses observed, such as posters, food or sound systems.
In addition to demonstrating that 57 percent of candidates exceeded the overall spending limit, the report, Following the Money: Campaign Expense Monitoring During the 2017 House of Representatives Election, showed that two-thirds of candidates exceeded at least one of the categorized limits and 90 percent of candidates underreported their expenses to the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN). The report also highlighted the close correlation between higher spending and higher vote share; winning candidates spent nearly 50 percent more than losing candidates on average. This would seem to confirm the perception that winning an election requires significant amounts of capital. With winning candidates in Kathmandu spending an average of USD 40,000, this amount of capital is out of reach for most potential women and minority candidates.
“The spending in elections is even more than what is seen in the report outside of Kathmandu. This overspending leads to corruption when these candidates get the desired position.” – Member of Parliament
At the launch event, which was attended by 48 members of civil society, political parties, the ECN and other government agencies, Samuhik Abhiyan identified vital recommendations that can serve as a road map for addressing campaign finance spending limits ahead of the next election, including:
- strengthening the ECN’s monitoring and reporting requirements for candidates;
- adhering to international best practice by setting an overall spending limit and removing categorized spending limits;
- reviewing campaign finance laws through a gender-sensitive lens; and
- publishing all financial reports submitted to the ECN by candidates and political parties.
Ten media outlets published stories about the report, while event participants appreciated the opportunity to discuss the need for a feasible mechanism to reduce the cost of election campaigns. In the coming months, Samuhik Abhiyan will meet with stakeholders individually to continue advocating for reforms that reduce the economic barriers to electoral participation. In line with the report’s recommendations, the ECN has requested IFES’ support to adopt new practices and tools that will strengthen the commission’s ability to monitor future campaign spending. The English version of the report can be found here and the Nepali version can be found here.