How excess money in politics challenges Democracy.

How excess money in politics challenges Democracy.

Photo Courtesy of CEPR

The campaign process for Uganda’s 2021 general elections was highly monetized and commercialised making it stand out as the costliest election the country has had so far. Political parties and candidates that participated in the general elections spent massively on their campaigns. The campaign funds were undeclared, unregulated and spending was unreported by neither political parties nor candidates.

This was aided and abated by the lack of provisions in the electoral laws of Uganda that make it mandatory for political parties and candidates to disclose the sources of campaign money, the amounts received thereof and reporting on what the money has been spent on.

SecretsKnown observed popular acceptance of vote buying as a normal practice in the 2021 elections with too much money (brand-new currency notes) flowing in during the pre-campaign and campaign period which was definitely bound to have an effect on the national economy post elections.

Whereas genuine elections should reflect the free expression of the will of the electors, in the context of Uganda’s highly monetised and commercialized politics, elections have largely become an expression of the power of money.

A study on Commercialized Politics and Captivity of State Institutions in Uganda by ACFIM indicates that there is little or no contest in the contemporary world of electoral democracy on the argument that whereas money is the mother’s milk of politics, it can poison the same politics it is meant to feed.

One of the major challenges related to money in politics is the lack of transparency surrounding political party and election campaign finance (Falguera, Jones and Ohman 2014). Lack of transparency in political party and election campaign financing is a major challenge for both established democracies and newer ones such as Uganda (International IDEA, 2017).

The open and transparent funding of political parties and candidates for election campaigns is desirable because it helps ensure that everyone including the powerful incumbents, is playing by the rules, which in turn strengthens the integrity of, and trust in, electoral politics, among both the general public and political parties.

When excess money flows in politics just like we witnessed in Uganda’s 2021 general elections, it impedes democratic progression in a number of ways including the following:

Illegitimate elected governments and leaders: When politics in young or emerging democracies like Uganda becomes transactional, political candidates and voters apply the marketplace theory to the vote, leading to commercialization. Commercialized electoral politics characterized by among other things bribing voters using cash and in-kind donations (vote-buying), erode the legitimacy of elected leaders and/or governments. Legitimacy of elected leaders is vitally important in engendering trust and support of the people for government policies which is a very important attribute of democracy.

Above all, commercialized electoral politics opens the doors to selfish interests that bankroll political parties and candidates with the aim of capturing the state to protect selfish economic, religious, social, and political interests. The prevalence of weak legislators that cannot exercise their supposed oversight function over the executive can partly be attributed to commercialization of electoral politics.

When political candidates and parties are elected on the basis of their money as opposed to ideas, they cease to be accountable to the electorate. They become accountable to their money and financiers to the extent that they will not serve the interests of citizens, rather they will serve selfish interests to recover what they invested in election campaigns with profit. This is where the ordinary Ugandan voter gets to feel the consequences of moneyed politics.

Political leaders abandon their constitutional duties to chase the money in order to sustain endless constituency demands – which is the language the constituents understand. And because using money to induce electoral support has proven to be effective, the penchant to use it is very high.

Underlying Corruption: After spending massively on election campaigns and accumulating debts with banks, microfinance institutions and the acerbic money lenders, the elected leaders get to use political office to engage in all ways possible including corruption, to recoup campaign money. SecretsKnown learned that legislators in the 10th Parliament received facilitation payments and gratifications to support legislations that seek to protect political and/or economic interests which consequently facilities the captivity of this sovereign institution.

The lack of provisions on mandatory disclosure of sources of campaign finance made it difficult for voters to tell who is bankrolling the political parties and candidates they voted for.

The lack of legal provisions for mandatory disclosure of sources of campaign funds poses an existential threat to not only democracy but allowing proceeds from money laundering and other financial crimes including corruption. But most importantly, it may have permitted “dirty money” to enter Uganda’s politics thus making political parties and/or candidates, captive to the interests of their financial backer at the expense of the Ugandan voter.

Get full report here.

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