Cost of politics

Many Ugandans – particularly women and young people – are excluded from entering and participating in politics because they cannot afford it, new research published on 28 October 2020 by the Public Policy Institute (PPI), Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) finds.

Since independence in 1965, The Gambia has held periodic multi-party elections. But it had never registered an electoral turnover of power until December 2016 when independent presidential aspirant Adama Barrow, backed by seven opposition political parties, defeated the incumbent, Yahya Jammeh. Following the defeat of Jammeh – whose 22-year dictatorship was characterised by attacks on democratic freedoms – the political environment has become increasingly competitive.

Politics on the island of Mauritius is considered a national sport, one which generates both passion and excitement among the population. However, much of what takes place remains behind closed doors or within private spheres. This culture of secrecy is most tangible when it comes to what is termed as ‘money politics’ – the undue use of money during an electoral campaign. The practice of contributions to the coffers of political parties has a long history in Mauritius.

Members of Parliament (MPs) in Kenya are amongst the highest paid in the world relative to the size of the economy. Parliamentary seats are among the most sought-after positions in society, bringing the holder wealth and social standing. In recent years, there has been an increasing trend whereby those in lucrative senior private sector positions leave, in pursuit of the perceived comfort and stature of public or political office.

The Malawi Candidate Survey (MCS) studies the costs of seeking and holding parliamentary office in Malawi. It follows similar studies conducted by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in Ghana, Nigeria, and Benin. This presentation will focus on the costs associated with running for parliament. High costs of politics limits political representation, curtails competition, and spurs corruption.

The "cost of politics" is made up of the costs that a political party or a candidate faces from the moment when they decide to run for office until the moment votes are counted. These costs include money spent on organising meetings and renting offices, as well as food and refreshments for staff, transportation costs, and printing posters and leaflets.

From 31 January to 1 February 2017, Westminster Foundation for Democracy hosted 66 experts, academics and politicians from four countries in West Africa –Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Senegal –for WFD’s first Regional Cost of Politics Conference.

This report aims to begin the process of examining issues around the cost of politics- with a view to identifying appropriate policy and other responses that both national authorities and civil society groups, and the donor community, can consider. WFD has conducted research in Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Nigeria, Uganda and Ukraine, examining the costs to individuals of becoming involved in parliamentary politics.