The political parties who were defeated at the recent Tunisian elections have now come out to accuse the winners, the al-Nahda party, of obtaining [extra] funds that allowed them to secure their election win. This is similar to the accusations facing Muslim Brotherhood, Salafist, and secular political parties in Egypt. Without going into details, these unsubstantiated accusations may prove to be true! In order not to bury our heads in the sand, we must acknowledge that elections are like marriage; namely that they are expensive and difficult to pull off.
The fact of the matter is that whoever possesses greater funds and organization, and the more attractive [political] program, is most likely to win. This is a fact that applies to all elections across the world, not just the elections in the Arab world. Campaign funds will determine the Egyptian elections, as it did in Tunisia. This is something that also applies to all forthcoming elections.
Although the Independent High Commission for the Elections authority in Tunisia carried out its basic duties, including granting the political parties around 9.5 million Tunisian Dinars [of public money] to run their election campaigns; however it seems that much more than this was spent under the table, as is clear from the nature of the political activism seem during the election period. However it is difficult for the Tunisian Independent High Commission for the Elections to figure out just much money has been illegally donated [to Tunisian parties election campaigns], such as from groups linked to the former regime, or funds provided by foreign governments or groups. The Tunisian electoral commission does not possess the monitoring tools or mechanisms to do this, nor does it possess a security contingent, therefore all that it can do is ensure that unimaginative electoral candidates receive [financial] support in a clear manner.
In the United States, in order to deter weak or vulnerable candidates – who are not few in number – from such practices the security agencies not only monitor candidates’ bank accounts and eavesdrop on closed-door meetings, but they even set up sting operations to see which electoral candidates are prepared to receive dirty money. In one sting operation, a federal agent – dressed as an Arab – carried out a sting against one US congressmen who accepted a briefcase full of cash.
The political parties that want to win elections need to learn and plan how to legally raise funds from within their own community and supporters. In the end, whichever party possess greater funds, organization, and rhetoric has more chance of winning the elections. It is not election promises, but rather the possession of huge funds that allow a political party or candidate to hire an army of specialists to promote their electoral program on television and in the street. What allows a group like the Muslim Brotherhood to win an election is not just its ability to sell its religious nature to the electorate, promising heaven for those who vote for them and hell for those who don’t, but also their ability to raise money and spend this on social services. Since the Muslim Brotherhood possesses a [religious] ideology, it is perceived as being less corrupt than other parties that steal the donations made to them.
In the US, political parties spend generously [on their electoral campaigns] because this is worth it in the long-run whilst they are also capable of gathering huge funds so long as this is done in a legal and transparent manner and each dollar can be traced to a credible source. It is up to the Arab states who believe – justly – that money can buy votes and allow a political party to come to power to learn from this. Therefore, 9.5 million Tunisian Dinars [of public money] to promote and organize 11,000 Tunisian electorate candidates means that any Tunisian party capable of obtaining a similar amount of money on its own has a far greater chance of winning the election. For [Arab] electoral organizers, they must impose a limit on the number of electoral candidates and campaign funds in order to guarantee fairness. Arab countries should also seek the assistance of other countries that have previously successfully carried out elections and managed the issue of [electoral] campaign financing.