Part 2 : Financing of Political Parties Campaigning in Zimbabwe
By Ignatious Sadziwa and Tinashe Gumbo
Funding plays a central role in any election campaign and is a key factor in determining the availability of a candidate and to a greater extent, influences the outcome of election results. The nature and importance of resources in African political processes in general and Zimbabwe in particular, dominate public discussions. Yet, according to Ohman (2016), “there is still very little information about how money is raised and spent by political parties and election campaigns, the relationship between politicians and voters is often based on clientelistic ties, and there is little oversight and enforcement of formal regulations”.
The discussion in this article builds on a previous piece penned by one of the current authors on Political Parties Financing in Zimbabwe. It is a direct response to a call by some stakeholders for transparency and accountability in the financing of election campaigns. The study noted the general feeling in Zimbabwe, that the election playing field is not level emanating from the financing model of the campaigns. We discuss the available framework in Zimbabwe that governs election campaign financing and the limitations it has with regard to transparency and accountability. Based on findings by the current authors and various other election stakeholders, we then reinforce some recommendations already proffered, particularly through previous elections observation mission reports.
What is Political Parties Financing
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) defines Political finance as “how political parties finance their regular activities, how parties, candidates, and non-contestants raise and spend money for election campaigns, and how this funding and spending is regulated and disclosed”. While money appears to be at the center of the discussions around political parties financing, it is critical to note that “financing” can also entail other non-monetary efforts, particularly with regard to election campaigns.
Thus, the role of money in politics can include many other activities. Costs relating to election campaigns, party routine processes, meetings, payment to suppliers, litigation costs for politically relevant cases, and many more, are examples of political party financing. Ohman (2013) noted that the multifaceted nature of this definition creates problems for legislation and enforcement aimed at the promotion of accountability and transparency. In attempting to address the limitations of the definition, one can open other loopholes in political party financing.
Why Citizens Should be Conscious of Political Parties Financing
Money is at the center of political processes, particularly during campaign seasons. It facilitates the relationship between potential public officials and the public. Money is an integral part of politics and its influence can be positive or negative to the democratic life of a society. The success and integrity of any given election are majorly hinged on the availability (or lack) of resources. We often talk of free and fair elections, democratic politics, effective governance, and corruption and all this is influenced by money in politics.
Yet, political party financing should also be viewed as part of public policy matters discourse. This explains why it has to be regulated as a way of promoting transparency and accountability and indeed, an equal playing field for political players. Sufficient money can allow a political party to reach out to the electorate but at the same time, it can skew the electoral competition. Furthermore, after every election resources are required to facilitate effective dialogue between the elected and the citizens, and this aspect is often ignored in political party financing discussions.
In general terms, the main objectives of regulating political parties and campaign resources are: to promote transparency in how resources are raised and utilized, to stop corrupt practices in the name of politics, to limit the impact of money in electoral processes as well as to counter the abuse of public resources. Therefore, political financing is not limited to disclosure. It covers regulation, oversight, and monitoring of contributions, spending, bans, and limits of resources in a political process.
Transparency and Accountability as Vehicles of Election Credibility
Transparency and accountability are very important factors when determining the credibility of elections in a democratic society. Political parties must publicly declare their financial books for public scrutiny. This is very important so as to safeguard against vices like money laundering, state capture, and corruption. In South Africa for example, in the run-up to the 2019 general elections, the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African President are alleged to have received R500 000 in campaign donations from Gordon Watson, the Founder of Bosasa, a business entity. This development did not go down well with the country’s electorate as it had the potential to open doors for state capture. What was untoward about this donation is its secrecy and underhandedness. The reaction from the public portrays South Africa as an open society that promotes a culture of transparency and accountability in its public affairs.
Transparency in income and expenditure of parties and candidates is viewed as a necessary prerequisite for regulation, as it allows effective oversight and enforcement by relevant authorities. It is a common practice to oblige candidates and political parties to disclose funding sources and provide detailed reports and accounts of their campaign expenditures.
The Cost of Democracy
In order to carry out their activities, political parties need appropriate funding. The relationship between money and politics, however, is controversial, and much of the debate on the role of money is concerned with its improper influence on the democratic political process. While the shady aspects of finance and politics should not be ignored, the relevance of money extends beyond sources that flow into party coffers and the pockets of politicians. The scope of political finance has wider relevance in the context of the functioning of democracy and should thus be seen as broader than merely involving illicit transactions. More generally, political activity involves expenses that should be seen as a necessary and unavoidable cost of democracy.
Available International Frameworks on Political Financing
Having realized that corruption is a phenomenon that permeates into all aspects of life, including politics, the United Nations adopted the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2003. This is the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument at that level. The UNCAC Article 7(3) is particularly relevant for our discussion in this article. It reiterates that “Each State Party shall also consider taking appropriate legislative and administrative measures, consistent with the objectives of this Convention and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to enhance transparency in the funding of candidatures for elected public office and, where applicable, the funding of political parties”. We noted that this is a good international framework which, however, is not effectively enforceable at the domestic level.
At the continental level, the African Union (AU) also attempted at promoting transparency and accountability in our politics. The African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) was adopted in Maputo on 11 July 2003 to fight rampant political corruption on the African continent. Still, the issue of enforceability remains the major limitation of the AUCPCC.
The Case of Zimbabwe
The Political Parties (Finance Act) regulates the financing of political parties. The political parties that received at least five percent in the previous election will be entitled to support from the Government. The Minister of Justice, with the approval of the Minister of Finance, has to publish each year the amount distributed among political parties from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Yet, the Zimbabwean funding model for political parties has created an official unequal playing ground in the politics of the country. Independent candidates will never benefit from this arrangement as it is technically and politically impossible for them to score the required votes in an election. Smaller political parties will also face the same situation in perpetuity. Thus, only the already-established political parties benefit from the facility. Currently, only the ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are the official beneficiaries of the money.
Section 93 of the Electoral Act Chapter 2:13 (as of 28 May 2018) also lists all the expenses that are permissible in an election. It is comprehensive enough to cover almost all the critical things that a candidate or political party may require for an effective campaign and running of election processes. Nevertheless, the law is rendered ineffective as noted by the European Union Election Observation Mission (2018) since there are no reporting requirements and enforcement mechanism.
Notable Limitations in Zimbabwean Frameworks
1. For any law to be effective, there should be an enforcement agent. This has remained the key limitation of the Zimbabwean frameworks on political parties’ financing. There is no independent institution to enforce the regulations that guide political parties’ raising and utilization of political and election resources.
2. The facility provided for in the Political Parties (Finance Act) is blind to the plight of smaller political parties and independent candidates. It has also been largely abused in Zimbabwe. Without bothering you much with what you already know, we refer to the MDC situation that “almost benefited the undeserving” individuals following the internal challenges in that party which led to the landmark court decision in 2020.
Another clear limitation of the model is its failure to formally recognize the possibility of the formation of new political parties. The “emergence” of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) as a major opposition political party, with a considerable presence in parliament (though through by elections) is a scenario that was never thought of by the crafters of the Political Parties (Finance Act). The CCC is currently struggling to fulfill its legitimate aspirations as a political player because the law is blind to its existence, yet, it represents a reasonable section of society in parliament. Such realities tempt the political players to consider “other” means of survival, and in the process violate the principles of transparency and accountability.
3. The European Union Election Observation Mission to Zimbabwe (2018) noted that Section 93 of the Electoral Act offers a detailed description of permissible election expenses, including “miscellaneous expenses not exceeding in the whole such sum as may be prescribed”. Nevertheless, as noted by the same Mission, “there is a complete lack of reporting requirements and transparency mechanisms thus not only rendering this provision redundant but also undermining the ability of candidates to campaign on a level playing field”.
4. Possible abuse of public resources by the ruling party has not been directly addressed in the framework. While this has remained a common problem in Zimbabwe, the matter is also noted in other countries such as Mali, Togo, and those from the West. It is alleged that ZANU-PF has continued to monopolize state media in the context of electioneering and routine politics. This means that one can not track and see “money” in such a situation, yet, public resources are actually being utilized.
Abuse of state institutions and resources is a matter of concern in Zimbabwe. In some scenarios, there is intimidation of the opposition support base through the use of state security apparatus that is paid using public resources. The use of government buildings, vehicles, and food for campaigning, also characterizes ruling party campaign processes. Obviously, this creates an unfair playing ground since independent candidates and other opposition political parties do not have ready access to such resources. In 2013 the then Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo canceled the water debts for residents in urban areas, some few weeks before the election date as part of electioneering to guarantee the ruling party’s grip on power. We did not see real money in that move, but certainly, public resources were abused for the benefit of a political party.
5. Possibility of illicit funding in an election is very high when the playing field is not level. Candidates may be forced by their vulnerability circumstances to receive funding that may have been generated through illicit means such as the drug trade. While some of the funding may be “clean”, some political actors may be forced to depend on foreign support for their campaigns, a situation that can also create complications in enforcing regulations on political party financing.
It can be concluded that money remains necessary for democratic politics, and political parties must have access to funds to play their part in the political process. Regulations must not curb the healthy competition but should create a level playing field, particularly between the ruling party and opposition political players including independent candidates, small, and newly formed parties. The authors noted that Zimbabwe has got adequate regulatory frameworks for political party financing. Nevertheless, the country lacks an independent institution that provides oversight on the acquisition, usage, and reporting of political party finances. Lack of reporting requirements, transparency, and accountability undermines the ability of political parties to campaign on a level playing field. The ruling party remains strategically located to benefit unfairly from the state resources during election time.
1. As recommended by some international and local election observers, Zimbabwe should introduce regulations on campaign expenditure, including reporting requirements before the nomination process and shortly after the declaration of results.
2. There needs to be a clear mandate for an independent institution to oversee respect for such regulations and to undertake campaign finance audits. In the same vein, civil society and the media should continue to monitor the political actors’ expenditure and bring out issues of abuse of state resources and the existence of possible illicit resources in certain political party coffers. While Zimbabwe Electoral Commission(ZEC) could have become an automatic candidate for this role, its legacy issues with regards to public confidence in it is a hindrance.
3. Crowdfunding: This is an innovative, legitimate, and effective way of raising funds for political parties, especially those that are yet to qualify for government allocations. The strategy facilitates the collection of small amounts of money that has been raised by ordinary members of a party or friends of a particular candidate. This is done electronically where a crowdfunding page can be set up and running in minutes and accept donations instantly. Nevertheless, crowdfunding should not also be abused. Proper accountability and reporting mechanisms should be captured in the country’s and individual political parties’ framework for reporting purposes.
4. Grassroots Lobbying: Organic and grassroots lobbying for funding is a very powerful strategy in political fundraising. It constantly connects political organizations to their supporters and entrenches a sense of belonging and the social contract between the party and its supporters. For effective execution, trained volunteers must be employed who will be responsible for executing the fundraising campaigns in the communities. The volunteers should be well-known people whom supporters trust and have confidence in. Accountability mechanisms should also be enforced at the party level to help national-level reporting mechanisms.
5. Resourceful Candidates: Endowed candidates can be handy to politics in times of need. Former New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg single-handedly funded in 2020 United States Presidential Election campaign to the tune of half a billion dollars. Though this practice can pose future problems for political parties when these candidates use their influence to capture and control, it has been observed that in most cases these deep-pocketed candidates have a good chance of winning in elections to save the underfunded political parties.
Ignatious G Sadziwa, Executive Director @ Zimbabwe Election Advocacy Trust. He is a Social Democrat and an Election Expert. He can be contacted @ Mobile/WhatsApp +263772706621; Facebook: Ignatious Sadziwa; Twitter: Ignatious Sadziwa; Email: [email protected]
Dr. Tinashe Gumbo is a Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice activist. He writes on elections, the environment, mining, and music. He can be contacted on Mobile: at +254 702 523 940/WhatsApp at +263 773218860; Email: [email protected]; Blog: tinashegumbo.wordpress.com; Twitter: DrTinasheGumbo1; Facebook: Tinashe Gumbo