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XIV: Electoral Expenses

02.11.2014

For years people have, quite rightly, been in favour of tightening up the laws on electoral expenses and on pre-elections bribery.

The corruption of the electorate, something quite visible, election after election, destroys the little democracy we have won through past struggles i.e. the right to put three crosses on a ballot once every five years. What happens is this. Private companies finance the leaders of the bourgeois parties’ electoral campaigns; this is one of the ways they assure themselves control over future Governments. Some companies finance both major alliances, however constituted. Then, the leaders of the bourgeois parties, in turn, use this money to corrupt people with influence: the head of a big family clan, owners of a fleet of taxis, minibuses or buses, leaders of neighbourhood clubs or associations, even union leaders. The party leader uses the bribe money to make the influential person do “persuading” work for their party, and for this influential person to keep those “under his influence “silent and low profile should they support any other party.In exchange, the influential person also gets promises of tenders, contracts, nominations, leases on State land and so on. That is the simple mechanism. The Labour Party calls this exchange mechanism “democratization of the economy”, if ever the capitalist is not that big a capitalist, and the usual run-of-things if it is a big-time capitalist.

Ashok Jugnauth, ex-Health Minister in the Bérenger-Jugnauth Government, who is today in the Ramgoolam-Bérenger alliance,was found guilty by the Courts of electoral fraud and he lost his seat in 2009, thus provoking a by-election. His particular kind of bribery was using State power directly to offer what was public property to influential people in the electorate, in exchange for them campaigning for him. He was sanctioned under existing laws for pre-electoral bribery.

So, really, what was needed was for people to stay focused on the need to tighten up the laws on electoral expenses and electoral bribery.

Change of subject
But today, the Press and everyone else, including the Ramgoolam-Bérenger team, are centering the entire debate not on electoral expenses and electoral bribery, but on “financing of political parties”. That is the new agenda. This is conflation of the issue. And it changes the subject from where it should be. At the same time, it brings in the danger of bureaucratization of parties, and the horror of any Regime party getting control over its adversaries.

Why do they change the subject from “control of electoral expenses” and from “pre-election bribery” to “financing of political parties”?

We are not sure of the answer.

But one thing that we are certain about is that once there are controls on “financing of political parties”, this means bureaucratization. This means giving the State power to control political parties day-in day-out. And worse still, it means giving the Regime in power dangerous powers. This will be an unprecedented defeat for democracy and freedom. The political party in control of the State apparatus at any one time will obviously repress the Opposition. You would have to be foolish to believe anything else.

In a society, where there are people who are in the capitalist class (because it is a class society), it is normal that capitalists want to finance parties that defend their interests. It is a dream to think that the State, and a bourgeois State at that, would be able to control that. Capitalists are citizens. They are Mauritians. They are even nationalists, often. The elementary homework of parties like LALIT is to convince workers that they have to vote against parties that are financed by capitalists. There is no short-cut via the bourgeois State in order to cut out the bourgeoisie.

But, faced with the corruption of the electorate, the debate has been so conflated into “financing of political parties”. The essential problem of electoral expenses is no longer even in people’s mind. And this is something that can be tightened up, without bureaucratizing everything. It just means more power to the Electoral Commission.

Electoral Commissioner’s control over party and candidate’s expenses
LALIT calls for the electoral law to be tightened up as follows:
* Companies and businesses that sell materials to Parties or candidates for the electoral campaign must have a duty to inform the Electoral Supervisory Commission, and they must present copies of the receipts issued: for printed materials, t-shirts, banners, sound systems, stages, lorries, tents, rental of rooms, billboard ads, audio and press ads, rental of materials, etc. This way both the candidate (and party, see below) and also the supplier have responsibilities to the Electoral Commission.
* As the law stands, the candidate and his agent, have to declare electoral expenses. ALLTI says that the law needs to be tightened up to include payments made by supporters and the party itself, for candidates. This means expenses that favour all candidates must be split pro-rata, those for one constituency shared amongst the three candidates, and so on. This way, the party itself is responsible.
* The ceiling for electoral expenses by candidates needs to be raised (given the amount the big parties already spend) to, we suggest Rs500,000 per candidate in a party and Rs 250,000 for an individual candidate. We should mention that LALIT will not spend a quarter of this on the totality of our candidates at the next election!
* The declaration that candidates and the party and businesses make on electoral expenses must be pasted up in Village Halls, Community Centre and Municipal halls, as well as in local Post Offices in the Constituency concerned, as well as on the internet, so that there can be general social control on expenses.
* The Electoral Supervisory Commission must be granted the power to put Supreme Court cases when necessary after serious complaints. This kind of Writ should be instituted in order to annul someone’s election if there has been any bribery, fraud or proof of over-expenditure.
*Private companies should be forbidden to finance political parties in money or in kind, and the Registrar of Companies should check for this.

We note that there have even been proposals that the State finance political parties, in the interests, supposedly of more egalitarian elections. LALIT does not agree at all, so long as we live in a class society. It will merely be a way to bureaucratize parties, on the one hand, and give dangerous powers to the incumbent Regime.

It is better for the State to open up to all parties the following:

* Free electoral registers, paper and CD.
* Cover postage up to a certain amount.
* Free Government halls for meetings.
* Remove Court fees for swearing electoral expenses.
* Give free time for all parties on MBC TV to announce their events.
* Extend political programs on MBC to private Radio and TV (when there is private TV).
* Ensure that there are billboards available in all areas.