AS Zimbabwe gears for the watershed harmonised elections to be held anytime between July and August — thanks to the revelation by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba during a recent interview — it is my humble submission that I touch on the very pertinent but mostly overlooked issue of political party financing.
Financing of political parties is a very key component in elections. Funding, inter alia plays an integral role in deciding the victor in any plebiscite. The financing of political parties in Zimbabwe for purposes of their operations and elections is provided for by an Act of Parliament aptly named the Political Parties (Finance) Act [Chapter 2:11].
The Political Parties (Finance) Act came into effect during the fourth Parliament on May 1, 2001 and commenced on May 11, 2001. I will not go into the fathoms of the law, but will just touch on the major highlights and the events that led to the crafting of this law.
For almost 20 years, Zimbabwe’s political landscape was dominated by Zanu PF which was a merger of two powerful liberation war movements that found common ground post near civil war skirmishes soon after independence.
Other smaller political parties like Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Council and liberation icon Ndabaningi Sithole’s Zanu played a cameo role and made very little impact in as far as challenging for political power is concerned.
Fast forward to 1999, came the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which was an awesome morph from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, a federation of labour movements drawn from different sectors of the economy with the support of tertiary students and the financially-sound Commercial Farmers Union (CFU).
The new kid on the block quickly affirmed its presence and it was no longer business as usual. Western governments and embassies also warmed up to the new movements which promised to usher in a new political narrative.
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The political stratosphere changed, it was no longer business as usual. Zanu PF’s rhumba was fading. The new kid on the block (MDC) was financially oiled. It had the support of Western and some African governments, so funding was not an issue.
This development did not sit well with Zanu PF, it was at sixes and sevens in trying to contain and curtail the pressure and threat which the new movement was posing.
A law was quickly enacted to that effect. The use of law for political or selfish gain is called lawfare. Is the Political Parties (Finance) Act lawfare? We need a critical analysis of the Act.
The Act is mainly focused on two critical components.
1) It touches on funding of political parties for operational and electioneering purposes.
2) It prohibits political parties from sourcing funding outside the country.
It is item 2 that I find rather odd. While I appreciate that terrorism must be guarded against, it is also imperative to acknowledge domestic terrorism.
Criminal and dangerous local elements can still finance political parties from proceeds obtained illegally.
The Act talks about financing political parties that would have obtained 5% or more of total votes cast in a general election.
Again there is a loophole in this piece of legislation. What about independent candidates? Section 67 of the Constitution provides for political rights of individuals.
I also find it prudent for independent candidates to be considered for that privilege.
There is need for reform and improvement in that regard. This section is inconsistent and in breach of the Constitution which is the supreme law of the country.
Funding: The “X” factor
Political party business is very expensive especially considering that political parties are non-profit voluntary organisations with no income-generating projects at their disposal. To effectively run a political organisation, huge financial resources are required.
Campaign material, advertising, lobbying, mobility and remuneration of part-time and full-time employees et cetera.
These are some of the demands political parties encounter in their day-to-day affairs. A comparison between Zimbabwe’s main political parties in terms of resource mobilisation will give you a nuanced insight.
Just recently, Zanu PF purchased a fleet of 485 SUV vehicles in preparation for the this year’s harmonised elections. Being the incumbent, Zanu PF has a competitive advantage over other political parties.
This raises the debate of State capture and abuse of State resources. Zanu PF has been accused of diverting State resources for selfish gains. There has to be a difference between State and a governing political party.
In the meantime, CCC is struggling financially having lost the legal right to its precursor the MDC-A in an infamous Supreme Court judgment which declared Douglas Mwonzora’s MDC Alliance the bona fide main opposition party after a protracted legal wrangle.
This is despite that Nelson Chamisa contested in the 2018 harmonised election and even challenged the election outcome as a legal persona.
This bizarre judgment will go down as one of the worst judicial mischievous antics in legal jurisprudence history. As a result, CCC is struggling to finance its operations at a very critical time.
It is not only CCC that is struggling financially, a closer look at the MDC Alliance which is the only opposition party enjoying State funding, you will find out that the funds it is receiving are not sufficient to last a year. It is critically important to probe this facility.
Political parties can still find other funding avenues outside the Political Parties (Finance) Act without breaking the law. Below are strategies political parties can employ to stay afloat.
Political parties can leverage on their loyal followers to crowdfund for their party activities. A political party with more than two million loyal supporters cannot fail to raise sufficient funds for its upkeep.
This calls for transparency and accountability. If members can trust that their monies are being put to good use they can religiously finance their party. Problem comes when the donated funds vanish without trace and reasonable explanation.
l Business acumen
Zanu PF boasts that it has businesses to its name. Through its investment vehicle Zidco, it set up and bought a lot of business enterprises. Jongwe Printers, Tregers, FBC, ZB Bank, Catercraft, Mike Appel, Fidelity Insurance and a host of other enterprises.
Through these companies, the party has oiled its machinery over the years. In equal measure, there is nothing that stops CCC from doing likewise.
If anything, it has an advantage since it can leverage on its strongholds which house a financially-endowed population.
lThe business community
Leadership is the power to influence. In 2007/8 former US President Barack Obama raised more than US$770 million for his election campaign.
This is the highest figure raised to date by a presidential aspirant in the history of the US. About 70% of the funds came from the business community. The business community is another fertile ground for fundraising.
As a lobby and interest group, the business community can be involved politically by supporting a political party of its choice.
There is nothing ominous and untoward about that. A political party leader with acumen and good policies must be able to charm the business community. Good, sound and applicable manifestos are essential to attract business funding.