The Bangladeshi constitution makes no reference to political parties, other than mentioning parties in the context of parliamentary functions. However, in the section on fundamental rights, the constitution guarantees the freedom to form associations, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression. Election regulations (Representation of the People Order 1972 and Conduct of Election Rules 1972) require candidates and parties to file reports on their expenditures during the campaign period. Candidates cannot spend more than 500,000 taka during the 90-day campaign period. Party spending limits are based on the number of candidates fielded.
In Bangladesh there is a code of conduct for all candidates. The election commission has an electoral inquiry committee to hear complaints, and there are election tribunals at all six divisional headquarters. The election commission is also responsible for collecting returns from parties and candidates concerning their spending and income during the campaign period. In practice, statements are rarely filed. There are no disclosure laws per se—only the requirement that parties file basic financial statements. The election law prohibits the use of government resources and assets for political campaigns, but this requirement is ignored in practice. There is no state funding, and no restrictions on donations to either parties or individual candidates.
The general sentiment of Bangladeshis regarding party financing is pessimistic: reform cannot occur without political will from the party officials and members of government, which is now lacking. It may be that NGOs and the media are becoming more powerful and are making it more difficult for candidates to buy votes and completely corrupt the election process; however, their contribution to transparency is still modest given the scale of corruption in Bangladesh.
Laws relating to electoral financing
1. Election expense
– Election expenses include any expenditure incurred or payment made for the arrangement,conduct or benefit of, or in connection with or incidental to election of a candidate. This definition clearly shows that the election expenditure made by any person on behalf of a candidate would be considered to be an expenditure incurred by the candidate himself.
2. Obligation of pre-poll reporting
– Every candidate is required to submit to the returning officer along with the nomination paper, in the prescribed form of the probable source of his election fund. These will include own income, sum to be borrowed or received as voluntary contribution from any relations or others or any organization.
– The above disclosure must be accompanied by a statement in the prescribed form of candidate’s assets, liabilities, annual income and expenditure and income-tax return.
– A copy of the above statements has to be sent to Commission at the time of their submission to the returning officer.
3. Obligation of documenting election expenses
– The election expenses have to be incurred only by the election agent (or by the candidate himself if he would act as his own agent), others contributing to the election expenses must make the payment to the election agent.
– Candidates incurring personal expenditure or persons making contribution shall within seven days of the declaration of the result of the election, send to the election agent a statement of such expenditure or particulars of such payment.
– The bill and receipt voucher of every payment of more than Tk 100 will be maintained by the election agent.
– The legislative candidates running for election are obliged to include in their income reports, data on the date of each donation, the value of each donation, and the name of each donor.
– The election expenses should be managed through a separate account with a scheduled bank operated by the agent/candidate.
4. Limit of election expenses
– Election expenses including the expenditure incurred for a candidate by the nominating political party shall not exceed Tk 1,500,000. However, this upper limit will be determined by the EC according to the number of voters in a constituency.
– The highest amount a political party may spend during the election Tk 45 million (if the number of candidates is more than two hundred), Tk 30 million (if the number of candidates is more than more than one hundred but less than two hundred), Tk 15 million (if the number of candidates is more than fifty but not more than one hundred), Tk 7.5 million (if the number of candidates is not more than fifty).
5. Mode of election expenses
– The election expenses cannot be used for printing a poster with more than one color or bigger than the size prescribed by the EC, which also makes it illegal to erect any gate, arch, or barricade, making any banner using any cloth, setting up more than one election camp in any union, ward, posting of posters on walls or any installation, and using motorized vehicles for campaigns, etc.
6. Post-election reporting obligation
– Every election agent of a contesting candidate shall, within thirty days after the publication of the name of the returned candidate under Article 19, or Article 39, submit to the Returning Officer a return of election expenses in the prescribed form. The return shall contain, among other things, a statement of all payments, bills, receipts, and bank statement; and shall be accompanied by an affidavit sworn severally by the contesting candidate and his election agent.
– A copy of all the above-mentioned documents must be sent to the Commission at the time of their submission to the returning officer.
7. Reporting obligation of Political Parties
– All contesting parties shall maintain proper account of all its income and expenditure for the period from the date of publication of notification till the completion of elections. Every party must indicate any donation above Tk 5,000, name and address of the donor, and nature of donation.
– The election funds and expenses of a political party must be operated through a separate account with a scheduled bank.
– A party cannot receive any donation amounting to more than Tk 20,000 unless it is made by cheque.
– Every political party nominating any candidate for election shall submit its statement of election expenses to the EC, for its scrutiny, within ninety days of the completion of election in all constituencies.
– In the financial report the party must include in their income reports, data on the date of each donation, the value of each donation and the name of each donor.
8. Punishment for offences
– The party, failing to comply with the obligation to submit the statement of election
expenses, shall be punishable with fine which may extend to Tk 10,000 and cancellation of registration.
– Punishment for meeting election expenses from any source other than source specified by the contesting candidates in the statement or the supplementary statement submitted under Article 44AA shall be two to seven years rigorous imprisonment with fine.
– Punishment for contravening the provisions of Article 44B (obligation of documentation of expenses, limit of expenses and the mode of spending) shall be two to seven years rigorous imprisonment with fine.
– Punishment for failing to comply with the provision of article 44AA or 44C (Reporting obligations) shall be two to seven years rigorous imprisonment with fine.
9. Access to information
-The statements, returns and documents submitted under article 44AA and 44C (relating to personal expenditure report) shall, during one year from the date of their receipt, be open to inspection by any person on payment of the prescribed fee.
– The EC will publish financial reports of the legislative elections campaigns on their website.
Political party financing practices
The information below is distilled from sixteen interviews conducted with knowledgeable persons from November 15 to 20, 2003. Four of the sixteen interviewees, or respondents, were elected representatives and four were political party officials. Three were members of the ruling coalition,and six were members of the opposition. Fourteen were male, and two female.
Typical campaign practices
It is common practice for candidates in Bangladesh to violate spending limits. Campaign workers are listed as “volunteers” and posters are “sponsored by the people.” The financial reports submitted usually reveal only a fraction—costs of a few meetings and some posters—of what is really spent.
Because candidates are expected to pay for their own campaigns, they must have independent sources of income. They usually rely on their personal and business funds, but will also sometimes get money or loans from friends and family. Interviewees reported that if a candidate is not independently wealthy or a businessperson, he/she will accept contributions from businesspersons and industrialists.
Typical sources of funding
Many of those interviewed did not have a clear concept of how parties raise money. A number said that there is no official fundraising by parties in Bangladesh, and one interviewee stated that local branch offices are not even allowed to conduct independent fundraising activities. Most interviewees estimated, rather, that the bulk of party funding comes from either the private business sector or the assets and businesses of individual party leaders themselves. Respondents found it difficult to identify from where most party funds comes because there is no transparency inthe donation process. Some respondents report that the parties also receive money from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.Almost all of the funding for parties goes not to the party directly but is rather donated to the party leader, who holds the money in private, personal accounts. Membership dues are negligible and often not even recorded. The Jamaat-e-Islami party requires all of its MPs and other elected officials to pay a Jakaat, or religious tithe. This religious tax is based on a percentage of an individual’s income and is often funneled through mosques. It is unclear how much of this tax is given to the party or what the monetary value of the tithe actually is, but informants estimate its value to be around five percent of the elected official’s salary. BNP and Awami League MPs also contribute to their parties, but the amount is not fixed.
Candidates cover most campaign expenditures, including staff and media buys, so parties have few costs. Parties may spend money on propaganda, such as posters and flyers, and will sponsor national-level rallies and events. In certain circumstances, the parties may fund the campaign of a poor but popular candidate.The cost of getting elected varies tremendously from place to place. Unlike in other developing countries, interviewees claim that it costs more to campaign in urban than in rural areas. One Bangladeshi stated that “In more rural areas candidates spend 2 to 2.5 million taka; in semi-rural areas candidates spend 10 million taka; and in urban areas, candidates may spend almost 50 million taka.” Constituency relations represent a significant cost for candidates. All candidates must employ canvassers who purchase votes, organize events, and build networks with local patrons. The largest candidate campaign expenses are the salaries, transport, and per diem of party agents. In addition,candidates must spend money on gifts and handouts to voters and local patrons.
Another significant expense for candidates is the purchase of their party nomination. The price of nomination is anywhere between 100,000 to 500,000 taka, although some respondents gave a higher estimate. Very few interviewees mentioned media (television and radio) as a significant expense. Most voter contact is made through loudspeakers, mobile campaign vehicles, and rallies. In order to avoid obvious breaches of the candidate spending limit, candidates will put “paid for by supporters” at the bottom of each poster.