Gotabhaya alone expends over 59% of total election campaign expenditure | Sunday Observer

Gotabhaya alone expends over 59% of total election campaign expenditure

An Independent polls observing Body which embarked on a mission to probe campaign expenditure of presidential hopefuls, has uncovered the shocking revelation that front runners have spent in excess of one billion rupees on their polls campaigns, in less than three weeks.

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) has so far calculated that the three main contenders, from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, New Democratic Front and National People’s Power have spent a staggering Rs.1.3 billion from October 14 to November 5 on various propaganda stunts to either win, or secure “a home run” in the upcoming election.

Sri Lanka still lacks a campaign finance law, hence the political parties are not legally bound to tender a financial statement on poll related expenditures to the Election Commission. The CMEV national coordinator Manjula Gajanayake said their calculations are based on the minimum figures, so the actual expenditures would be much higher than the figure in their report.

With the election heat getting intensified- there is now only a week to the November 16 D-day- and this being one of the most intensely fought elections between the two main candidates (SajithPremadasa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa), the campaign managers are expected to throw in more millions in the coming days in their efforts to secure victory.

Among the three main contenders, SLPP presidential hopeful Rajapaksa’s propaganda wing is accountable for the biggest chunk of campaign related expenditures with a whopping Rs.784 million being spent up to November 5, the CMEV report reveals. This is a 59% of the total amount spent by five high spenders.

The UNP led New Democratic Front candidate Sajith Premadasa has spent Rs.496 million (37%) while the election campaign expenditures of JVP led National People’s Power (NPP) candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayakehas amounted to Rs.35 million (2.6%). Janasetha Peramuna candidate and National People’s movement candidate has spent Rs.5 million and Rs.2 million respectively.

The report released Friday night carries expenditure estimates from October 14 to November 5 and include costs for propaganda in the form of newspaper and electronic media advertisements and social media posts by the three main contenders.It has also covered costs for election meetings, public rallies, visibility items (and cost of misuse of state property too!).

The SLPP has spent Rs.634 million on electronic media ads, as against the DNF’s Rs.278 million.

Gajanayake said this attempt to expose campaign expenditures of the presidential candidates did not focus on just figures but strives to build public opinion and societal discourse on the impact of unlimited and unregulated costs of election campaigns on the democratic process.

He added, “The shocking figures only underscore the importance of an immediate campaign finance legislation in Sri Lanka.”

The report was released in the backdrop of the election monitors and civil activists joining forces to make a massive call to expedite a law,(that is now in the making),to put a ceiling on campaign financing and regulate this sector, so that possible money laundering- which often happens in the guise of campaign financing, would also be banned.

The law that was prepared nearly a year ago, (following a campaign led by the election monitors and civil society activists,and with the blessings of the National Election Commission) has had its activists sent from pillar to post due to lack of political will, the polls monitors lamented. “Currently the proposed Bill is with the Attorney General’s Department,” Gajanayake said.

The proposed law will compel all political parties to reveal their sources of campaign funding and dictates that audited Financial Statements are submitted to the Election Commission within two months after the release of election results. It also incorporates provisions for unseating an offender even if he or she is elected to office.

The CMEV has covered 30 newspapers, nine television channels (selected based on Nielson and LMRB ratings) and Facebook, in compiling the report. In addition they have deployed 160 electoral based field coordinators to collect costs of ground campaign material such as cut-outs and banners.

He said calculating Facebook propaganda costs proved to be the toughest task, since there has not been any support from the administrators of this social media platform. “We hope to RTI the political parties to release their campaign fiance details once the election is over,” the CMEV National Coordinator said.

“If there are any questions or doubts of our findings, anyone can approach us for verification,” He said stressing that part of this attempt is to gather data and statistics is to expose evils of unregulated campaign financing so that people’s support can be mobilized to pressurize the legislators into passing the proposed campaign finance law in parliament.

JVP Propaganda Secretary and Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath

“As a tradition we have been submitting Audited financial reports of the party to the election commission each year. It contains details of our income, such as donations, membership funds and expenses.

We will be forwarding a report with all our election campaign finances and expenditures to the Election Commission after the November 16 Presidential election.

We are aware that other political parties too provide their financial statements to the election commission at the end of the year but whether these accounts are authentic, is questionable. I agree that the Election Commission should have powers to probe into these statements and verify the data and information contained.

We will welcome new regulations to streamline election campaign financing and once it reaches the parliament will support it all the way.”

UPFA Parliamentarian and SLPP spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella

“During an election, money is being infused for propaganda activities from various quarters. We have seen an overwhelming support for the SLPP candidate from all sectors. It would be a good practice to regulate the funding but we do not have such laws at present.

In the absence of laws, I must say such good practices are being ignored.

But accounting of SLPP campaign finances are being done methodically by Mr.Basil Rajapaksa who heads the SLPP presidential candidate’s election campaign. A reputed company is entrusted with looking after that quarter. Our election expenditures will be shared with the public.

We are aware of the ongoing efforts to bring in election campaign financing laws. As long as these provisions are reasonable and practical on the ground, we will not hesitate to support a Campaign Finance Bill in parliament.”

UNP Parliamentarian and Minister Eran Wickremaratne

The parties have no objection to disclosing the source of campaign funding but the issue is with the donors, who want to remain anonymous. On the other hand there is no campaign finance law. As far as the UNP is concerned all our party fiances are accounted, audited and presented to the election commission.We will strongly support laws on campaign financing. That will have to go hand in hand with reforms to the electoral system. We must not bring laws to make campaign financing and expenditure public without some equity in the system. The major part of the expenditure is on the media, therefore it has to be made available equally.