The National Constituent Assembly’s Commission on Finance, Development and Planning held, on Tuesday 11th March, a session with the Court of Auditors and the General Commission on Legislation to discuss the issue of financing of election campaigns, in the context of discussions about the new electoral law. The Court of Auditors had monitored election finances in the 2011 elections and was invited to present its findings and recommendations for the new electoral law and to clarify some points of contention for the Commission.
The President of the Court of Auditors, Abdel Qader Azzaghli, presented the experiences of the Court in the 2011 electoral process, which he said had had many “positive effects on the political level” but suffered from some weaknesses in terms of monitoring and regulation of election campaign finances. Some of these related to the lack of experience in organizing democratic elections, as well as the regional situation in 2011, with the Libyan uprising having an impact on financial liquidity in Tunisia.
The Commission has been discussing the relative merits of various systems of public campaign financing, and whether to provide upfront public financing or adopt a reimbursement system based on candidates’ actual expenditure up to a set ceiling. Azzaghli called for a system that entitles all parties and electoral lists to participate equally in the electoral process, without exclusion or discrimination.
A particularly problematic question is the recovery of public financing from lists and candidates who failed to gain the minimum level of votes in the 2011 elections but failed to return the public financing they received. Azzaghli revealed that only 3% of the public funds given to such lists or candidates was recovered, leading to significant losses to the state and citizens.
The President of the Court of Auditors put forward several recommendations for the Assembly for the forthcoming electoral law, which centred around five key themes:
- Clearer laws and regulations: the introduction of a clear legal framework for elections, and bringing the various legal texts regulating elections under one comprehensive law.
- Clearer regulation of campaign finances: the establishment of clear definitions relating to campaign financing, such as the notion of “private funds” and “foreign funds” and harmonizing such definitions for both campaign financing and financing of political parties to remove any discrepancies between them, and the introduction of monitoring powers for regulatory bodies, particularly the Court of Auditors, such as the power to reject items of expenditure not relating to campaign financing, the power to monitor bank accounts of political parties. Azzaghli called for better coordination between the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance in order to monitor the bank accounts and campaign expenditure of parties.
- Facilitating monitoring by establishing one bank account per political party or electoral list – an obligation on electoral lists to use only one bank account each for their campaign finances, and to appoint one administrator with experience of accounting for each account.
- Public financing – the Court recommended introducing upfront public financing for electoral campaigns, emphasizing the importance of public funding for building a stable democracy, particularly in a delicate transitional phase.
- Stronger sanctions for violators – introduction of more stringent sanctions for those violating campaign financing rules. Azzaghli noted that enforcement had been very weak after the 2011 elections, particularly with regards to violations of rules on campaign spending limits and foreign funding. He suggested introducing higher fines for violators, suspension, depriving them of public financing or standing in future elections, and criminal sanctions such as imprisonment, suspension of a party or its dissolution.
The session ended with an exchange regarding the role of the Court of Auditors and the importance of consulting it on relevant pieces of legislation, especially on technical matters and financial issues.
The General Commission on Legislation continues its work this week on the electoral law and is due to take a vote on the provisions under discussion. The provisions agreed on by the Commission will be incorporated into a draft law to be presented to the Plenary before the end of March.