Elections 2008 in Lahore – a “money game”?

What a disturbing report from The News authored by Babar Dogar on elections in Lahore:

“THE 2008 general elections will be remembered among other things for lavish spending by affluent candidates to the extent that their rivals find it impossible to compete with them at least in terms of money.

Affluent candidates, majority to whom are of a particular political party, have openly violated the electioneering spending limit of Rs 1.5 million fixed by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Standing in elections seem to be a money game and candidates with a limited budget seem to be running campaigns lacking razzle-dazzle.

A visit to any constituency shows huge billboards of candidates greeting people. Candidates are spending millions of rupees for publicity. They have adopted various meathods such as display of billboards, airing campaign ads on cable television, distribution of pamphlets, stickers, hand bills, banners and party symbols among voters, opening of numerous election offices in each union council, serving food and refreshments to their supporters, hiring vehicles for their election campaigns and finally purchasing votes.

The News has learnt that a 15 X 20 feet billboard costs Rs 25,000 and a 20 X 30 feet bill board costs Rs 30,000. A survey of the City reveals that hundreds of such billboards are on display in every constituency. A visit to Main Boulevard Gulberg Lahore, Jail Road and Ferozepur Road shows hundreds of billboards of a particular candidate welcoming people. It is estimated that the billboards of candidates on display at Main Boulevard Gulberg, Ferozepur Road and Jail Road alone cost over Rs five million.

Things are not different in Green Town, Township, Peco Road and Kot Lakhpat areas where hundreds of billboards of a particular candidate make one think as to how much money was spent only on billboards.

The expense of getting stickers, hand bills, symbol banners and banners printed is also in millions of rupees. A sticker of 10 X 15 inch costs Rs 1,000 per 100 pieces. An average candidate has got 20,000 such stickers printed while candidates in some constituencies had got 50,000 stickers printed which cost them at least Rs 500,000. Likewise, a banner costs Rs 300 per piece and an average candidate has got at least 5,000 to 10,000 banners printed to put these on display at houses, election offices and in streets. On can see hundreds of such banners on display on Davis Road, Gulberg, Township, Green Town, Peco Road and adjacent areas. Sources said that an average candidate was spending Rs 200,000 only on banners while some candidates had also spent around Rs 500000 for this purpose.

Cable operators are charging between Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 from candidates for airing their capaign ads for one day on one channel. Many candidates in Lahore have paid cable operators for a package for airing ads on four to five channels for one month. Candidates on the average are spending Rs three to five million just to get their ads on air on five channels for a month. Campaign ads of several candidates in Lahore have been on air for the last two to three months.

The cost of running a campaign office on a daily basis also runs in thousands as candidates have to pay daily allowances, provide food at least two times a day and other perks to staffers. Some candidates have spent Rs 20,000 to Rs 100,000 for opening a campaign office besides an additional expenditrue of Rs 1,000 per day on the minumum. The cost of opening and operating a campaign office also depends on the significance of the area and location of the office. There are an average of 50 to 100 election offices in majority of National Assembly constituencies. In some constituencies, around 150 election offices have already opened with five to ten election offices of the same candidate in a single street. Insiders say that candidates are providing a daig of mutton rice (biryani) at lunch and a mutton daig with naans at dinner at their election offices on a daily basis. The price of one mutton rice daig is around Rs 3,000 to 4,000. Likewise, the price of a mutton daig is around Rs 8,000. A candidate is spending around Rs two to Rs three million on average to maintain a single office. Some candidates are spending around Rs 200 to three million on the count of providing food to their supporters. The expenditures of transport are in addition to the abovementioned amount.

It is learnt that candidates have also hired jeeps, cars and vans from rent a car shops at the rate of Rs 1500 to 2,500 per day and handed these to their election offices so that they could bring voters to polling stations. A candidate has hired from 100 to 200 vehicles on the average on transportation, spending from Rs two to Rs three million just on this count. Insiders told this scribe that thousands of rented cars and jeeps can be seen moving in the City painted with the name of the candidate and the symbol alloted to him/her by the ECP.”

Candidates believe that they can impress voters if a lots of vehicles advertising their names and symbols are seen moving in the constituency. They are also paying for the fuel of these vehicles which is costing them millions of rupees. Some candidates in Gulberg, Green Town, Township, Samanabad, Islampura and Garhi Shahu had spent millions of rupees on this count.

Candidates have also mobilised their agents to purchase votes for them. There are candidates in Lahore who have asked their agents to pay as much as Rs 1,500 to 2,000 for a single vote for which they will receive Rs 500 as commission. Likewise, some candidates have also distributed gift bags among minority voters on Christmas containing a flour bag, an oil packet, five kg sugar bag and a rice bag. It is learnt that there are four national and provincial assembly candidates in Lahore who have distributed six to seven thousand such bags costing them Rs eight to ten million.

Affluent candidates are also madly showering money just for a few votes. Some candidates have surprised everybody as to how they have amassed such wealth that they are spending so much without a care. People have also raised questions as to what attraction these candidates find in making such huge investments in campaigning to win elections.

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