Billion Dollar Vote: The Season Of Expensive Elections

Billion Dollar Vote: The Season Of Expensive Elections

The list of countries, that will have their citizens visit the polling booth includes the likes of India, USA, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Juviraj AnchilUpdated: Sunday, March 03, 2024, 01:03 PM IST
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Representative Image | Unsplash

2024 is a deemed to be remarkable year by many, for this calendar year is expected and more precisely, scheduled to have the most number of elections in multiple territories around the world, than ever before in modern history of democracy and elections. Billions, nearly half the world's population is expected to go to the polls, at various points and times of 2024.

Elections

Elections | file

2024, The year of elections

The list of countries, that will have their citizens visit the polling booth includes the likes of India, USA, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

This festival of democracy comes at cost. A hefty one, one might say. In 2019, 'the largest democracy in the world', India, elected its 17th Lok Sabha, replacing its 16th Lok Sabha. This election politically saw the incumbent being swept to power with greater ease and muscle of numbers than before.

The ruling NDA repeated its 2014 triumph, and retained power in New Delhi. It is the pecuniary aspect of it all that also stands out. The general elections of 2019, were deemed as the most expensive election ever conducted. A cumulative sum of USD 8 billion were spent in those elections, which saw a voter turnout of 67.04 per cent.

'Rs 700 per vote'

According to the report from Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies, on an average close to Rs 700 were spend on each vote in an election that saw over 600 million of the 912 registered voters turn up to cast their votes. for comparison, five years before that, the country saw an expenditure of over USD 4 billion, nearly doubling after a five-year term.

A year later came the elections tailor-made for television sets, the coveted US Presidential election. These elections dwarfed the aforementioned numbers almost too easily. According to reports, the highly-polarised election, that saw incumbent president, Donald Trump take on Democratic challenger Joe Biden saw a grand splurge of about USD 14.4 billion. This election saw a 66.6 per cent turnout, with over 158 million people showing up to the polling station, in what many deemed as a viciously fought election. These election saw Joe Biden pip Donald Trump, to take the White House.

PM Modi with JP Nadda

PM Modi with JP Nadda | (PTI Photo/Vijay Verma)

Joe Biden inauguration

Joe Biden inauguration | AFP/Getty/The Atlantic

The British election in 2019 cost the taxpayer over USD 170 million (in today's value), with USD 37,000 limit on its 650 seats in the House of Commons.

Regulatory systems without tooth

Now, the Indian electoral system does have system in place, that is designed to truncate extensive expenditure. As according to the latest circular issued by India's Election Commission, dated 2022, the Limits of candidate’s expenses Enhanced, directs and thereby limits the expenditure of a candidate fighting in the Lok Sabha election to Rs 95 lakh, increased from the previous Rs 70 lakh applies to each individual candidates in the parliamentary elections. This circular, however does not apply to directly invoke or talk about the party, that may be fielding the candidate in these elections.

This leaves the parties with the liberty to spend greater sums than 'prescribed'. It is not different in the second case mentioned either, as, in the US, according to the Federal Election Commission, the prescribed spending limit for candidates is USD 123 million. But, here is the catch, this is for those candidates, who are seeking the said 'grant' through public funding of her/his campaign, by seeking nominations from major party (Democratic or Republican) or some other minor party. Here the candidate accepting the grant cannot accept any private funds/donations. This system, again leaves the parties and their deep-private-funded pockets off the hook, in the US as well.

Election rally in India

Election rally in India | HT

Problem with the number game

The problem with these mind-numbing numbers, that are poured into campaigns in countries around the globe, is not just about the sheer vastness of the number at play itself, but also about the underlying meaning of the money spent. As these resources, not only hurt the public coffers (in some cases), as an immediate impact, but also impact the process of policy making in the long run.

The pool of money engendered through private entities may or may not come at cost, favours are often exchanged in the vestibule of power. Not only does it open up an avenue for potential impropriety, but also debilitate a fair competition, by obfuscating the other candidates, with the sheer power of resources.

Legislations in this field may be rudimentary to reverse the trajectory of wholly money-driven election process, to insulate democracy from the foibles of the system.

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