Proposed changes in RPO anything but pro-people
IN VIEW of the proposal for raising the ceiling of individual electoral expenditure to Tk 25 lakh from Tk 15 lakh, and of individual and organisational donation to a political party to Tk 25 lakh and Tk 50 lakh from Tk 10 lakh and Tk 25 lakh respectively, the draft Representation of People (Amendment) Bill 2013, which the cabinet approved on Monday, could very well be termed the ‘Election of the Rich Bill’. The re-raising of the ceiling tends to reconfirm the growing public perception that money, along with muscle, has become the overarching concern of national politics, from the centre to the periphery, and the national parliament is destined to remain a rich people’s club for years to come.
Of course, it may be argued that the proposed amendment is pragmatic since, in view of the consistent price spiral, for one reason or another, it makes little sense not to revisit the RPO provisions that deal with electoral expenditure and political donation, and revise them in accordance with the changing need of time. It may also be argued that, since the existing caps on electoral expenditure and political donation are flouted more often than they are complied with, it would be prudent to reset the bar at a realistic level so as to discourage such transgressions.
However, such arguments would have held water had the distribution of wealth and increase in income been equitable. Thanks to the decidedly distorted developmental model pursued by successive regimes since independence, inequity in society has reached such a level that a handful of people currently command the lion’s share of national wealth. Such a reality has already seen politically conscious and committed individuals belonging to the middle-income bracket of society financially outmuscled in, and eventually outcast from, the political arena. Not surprisingly thus, the ninth Jatiya Sangsad features more businesspeople than ever in Bangladesh’s history.
Such domination of moneyed individuals over politically conscious and committed people has predictably led to what may be called financialisation of politics, with economic policies being conceived, formulated and implemented to benefit the few at the cost of the interest of the many. Such degeneration of politics is only inevitable when the political class yields to the affluent class’s motive of abusing politics as business opportunity and thus reaping handsome returns on electoral expenditure or political donation.
Again, not surprisingly, the resetting of the ceiling for electoral expenditure and political donation seems to have always been premised on a median, arrived at upon calculation of the income of the affluent sections of society. It has been no different this time around. What it does is disempowerment of people at large by increasingly narrowing the scope for active participation in the political and policymaking processes. After all, if donation to political parties is supposed to induce a sense of belonging in the donors and a sense of obligation in the recipients, the stakes have already gone too high for the ordinary people to take part.
Hence, it is imperative that pro-people organisations in society should mount pressure on the ruling elite so that they reconsider the RPO provisions on electoral expenditure and political donation, and revise those to ensure that politically conscious and committed individuals are not crowded out of electoral races by self-seeking wealthy people and ordinary citizens are not pushed out of the political process.
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