“let’s raise our voices as to what was delivered against what was promised and how transparent is our political process because believe it or not it’s not going to get any better if we don’t make it better ourselves”

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Political finance is a frequently overlooked topic when discussing mainstream electoral politics in Pakistan. It is an umbrella term,which at a very basic level means money related to politics and serves to afford a level playing field for all contesting candidates. The term ‘political finance’ can be defined as ‘involvement of money in politics’. Money in politics is required for election expenses and day-to-day operations of political parties and candidates. Political finance has a crucial role to play in any democratic nation’s electoral process and as such requires a deeper level of understanding and ownership. During elections, understandably, it plays its biggest and most visible role. However, this role, if unchecked, can prove to be extremely dangerous and influential in determining the outcome of an election even if conducted on completely free and fair means.

Yes, money is needed to finance the campaign but if not monitored and kept within fair limits, it can destroy the fairness of these campaigns. After elections, resources are required to maintain an effective dialogue with citizens. However, if political finance has not been monitored properly, public officials may have obligations to wealth benefactors resulting in influence impacting the public and the management of public funds.

In the Global Corruption Report 2004 (Transparency International), Pakistan figured in a category of states where investment in political parties can yield desired policy outcomes sought by the investors. It has been observed time and again that candidates in Pakistan spend exorbitant amounts on their election campaigns—violating political finance laws on multiple counts. Be it vote buying; accepting donations from objectionable sources; offering transportation to voters; bribing polling staff; misreporting campaign expenditures; spending exorbitant amounts on election campaigns; or fudging annual statements, all are violations of political finance and electoral laws that are outlined in Representation of People Act 1976, Senate Election Act 1975 and Political Parties Order 2002. In essence, corruption and irregularities observed in elections are direct violations of political finance laws. When these laws are flouted they give unfair advantages to the deep pocketed candidates consequently skewing the outcome of elections.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is responsible to conduct free and fair elections in the country by offering equal opportunities to all candidates. As an enforcement and regulatory body, its primary role is the effective implementation of political finance laws to ensure that returned candidates depict the true sentiment and choice of people. The recent General Elections in 2013 witnessed a lot of positive steps introduced by the commission to bring more transparency to the electoral process. A dedicated Political Finance Wing has been created within ECP for improved monitoring of the same process as well.

The civil society however has been lacking in challenging the unfair use of money in our electoral process and while very vocal on skewed outcomes needs to realise the root cause of the skewness. That is why we all need to play a role in monitoring how informed our choices actually are by raising issues regarding the unfair use of money in elections and the electoral process. To gain a deeper understanding of how our politicians use excess use of wealth and clout to influence the outcome of elections, it’s important for us as voters to actually gain awareness about the law and how it is being flouted to nefarious means. Nobody will come and do that for us, as the government can always make laws but until there is political and popular will to back them up with implementation there is no result achieved.

So let's start by asking the local representative questions, whether it be on social media or mainstream, let's raise our voices as to what was delivered against what was promised and how transparent is our political process because believe it or not it's not going to get any better if we don’t make it better ourselves.