Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has proposed in parliament to include in the constitution, a clause which will empower the legislature to control campaign expenditure of candidates and political parties in future elections.
He has suggested that the parliament should have the power to curtail media advertising by individual candidates contesting elections or to impose a ceiling on such expenditure incurred by political parties.
The matter has become relevant in the recent past because of the colossal amounts of money that have been spent by individuals and political parties for election campaigning. This has made it nearly impossible for suitable candidates who are not backed by such funding to survive in national politics.
The situation has deteriorated after the introduction of the proportional representation system where a candidate has to throw big money if he is to reach the top of the list in preferential votes. Under the PR system a candidate has to get votes from the entire district and it is a difficult task which cannot be accomplished without a costly campaign.
This situation has not been healthy for the country’s democracy as it was not the most suitable or the educated, but those who had the ability to spend lavishly that emerged victorious at elections. This often paved the way for big money earned through unlawful or unethical means to enter into the electoral battlefield through campaign support for various candidates. Inevitably, such candidates enter the parliament with heavy obligations towards those who spent for the campaign.
In the first-past-the-post system of elections campaign funding does not play such a huge role as any candidate with good reputation and qualifications and popular in his own area will be able to win an election without having to campaign in the entire district.
Thus, control of campaign funding becomes more relevant where PR system of elections is in force and most such countries in the western world have introduced legislation for that purpose. An uncontrolled political campaign finance system can lead to corruption finally destroying the very essence of democracy and giving the control of the political system to the billionaires and special interests.
The move to legally control election campaign funding is in the right direction, but it must go hand in hand with electoral reforms introducing more of first-past-the-post system and lesser PR, thus minimizing the need for big money in election campaigns.