Cost of democracy

Campaign financing, referring to the use of money, or other material resources, for political activities, has become the subject of intensified debate the world over. While it is generally accepted that campaigns cost money, it is of note that the costs of running a campaign are ever increasing. To place this in perspective, as per the campaign finance watchdog, the United States of America’s 2016 presidential and congressional elections carried a price tag of USD 6.5 Billion. Locally, the costs are also on the increase.

Due to the ever increasing capital intensive nature of political campaigns, it is no surprise that questions have been raised as to how these finances are raised, with a view to prevent the abuse of the electoral system for political/financial gain. It is with this in mind that the cry for regulatory reform in relation to campaign financing is prevalent, particularly in the African context. This is especially so because cost of campaigns continue to raise, amidst high poverty levels. The question of note being, what measures can be taken by various state actors to ensure that electoral malpractices such as corruption, bribery, vote buying and other election related financial malpractices do not fester in the electoral process thereby stymying the democratic process.

To this end, three particular objectives are quoted as being the basis of electoral reform: the need to: enhance transparency so as to preserve voters confidence; pursue equity in the electoral process so as to ensure a balanced playing field among parties and candidates; and assure accessibility to electoral competition for all citizens regardless of their financial status.

With this in mind, we must acknowledge that Kenya is indeed on track in relation to the regulation of political activities, and the attendant financing involved. The Constitution of Kenya, 2010, Article 88, gives the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission the mandate of ‘conducting and supervising referenda and elections to any elective body or office established by the constitution and any other elections as prescribed by an Act of Parliament’. Further, the Election Campaign Financing Act, 2013, provides for the regulation, management, expenditure and accountability of election campaign funds during election and referendum campaigns. On this basis, the IEBC, in pursuit of transparency, equity and accessibility in the electoral process, is required to regulate money spent by or on behalf of a candidate or political party in an election or referendum. Further, the same body is tasked with setting contribution and spending limits in relation to the same.

While it is evident that the legislative framework is in place, we must be cautious of creating discrepancies between the law and practice. For the existing legal framework to be effective, we as the electorate must ensure that we hold the existing parties and their campaign machinery to task. The electorate must go beyond being mesmerised by the candidates marketing gimmicks and focus on the manifestos and thereafter hold them to their promises.


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