Eseru Abel, a Opposition International contributor, directs attention to Zimbabwe’s campaign finance laws. He belongs to AFCIM, a unique organization doing a great job advancing financial transparency in Africa. Too often, political contributions to the opposition are picked apart in great detail while large sums flow quietly and discreetly to the incumbent party through state-approved means.
The campaign finance conditions in Africa are by no means unique. Asia, South America, AND North America possess similar unfairness when it comes to the transparency of money in politics.
Will Zimbabwe deliver credible 2023 elections without a robust law regulating campaign financing?
May 4, 2023
In three months’ time, Zimbabwe will go through yet another general election with the absence of effective legal and institutional mechanisms to regulate campaign financing.
Though the country has the Political Party (Finance) Act (Chapter 2:11) that amongst other things, regulates permitted (citizens, permanent residents, companies, and associations) and prohibited (all others) sources of funding, there are no spending limits, no compulsory requirements to report contributions and spending, and no requirements to publish financial reports.
There is also no institution that has a mandate to oversee political finance regulations. Such gaps make the political finance ecosystem incomplete and hence create an ‘arms race’ of campaign spending which makes the process of contesting for political power a preserve of the super-rich and open to illiberal influences.
The main purpose of regulating campaign finance is to ensure transparency in how political parties and candidates raise and spend money for election campaigns, stop corrupt practices, limit the impact of money on the electoral process, and counteract the abuse of public resources.
While no definitive international consensus exists on what constitutes the best practice regarding political finance, there is a growing need for transparency in the funding of political parties and candidates in the fight against corruption. Article 7 (3) of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) calls on countries “to consider taking appropriate legislative and administrative measures… to enhance transparency and funding of candidates for elected public office and where applicable, the funding of political parties”.
The African Union Convention on Combatting and Preventing Corruption (AUCC) under Article 10 on funding of political parties also highlights the importance of transparency in political finance and urges its members to adopt measures to “proscribe the use of funds acquired through illegal and corrupt practices to finance political parties” and to “incorporate the principle of transparency in the funding of political parties” in their national legislations.
The issue of campaign financing has been and remains a major bottleneck for democratic renewal in Zimbabwe especially in the wake of illicit financial flows such as was exposed in the Gold Mafia investigative documentary.
Over the past three electoral cycles, African Union, domestic and international observers have called for campaign finance regulation as one of the ways to level the electoral field between ZANU-PF and other opposition political parties. For instance, after the 2018 harmonized elections in Zimbabwe, African Union recommended that the government and Parliament should consider reviewing the Political Parties Act to ensure transparency and accountability in campaign financing. Abuse of state resources and other improper forms of influencing votes should be prohibited to ensure a more leveled electoral playing field.
International observers also noted that “there was a complete lack of reporting requirements and transparency mechanisms… undermining the ability of candidates to campaign on a level playing field,” and recommended that the authorities should “develop regulation of political party financing to promote accountability and transparency as a key step towards creating a leveled playing field between political parties.” Secrets Known would further like to re-echo to the government of Zimbabwe to consider putting in place a comprehensive framework for campaign financing. Without an effective legal and regulatory framework on campaign financing, Secrets Known anticipates the following as the likely scenarios in the next general elections:
- Controlled voter consent where money will be used to buy voters, will make electoral results cease to reflect the will of the people.
- Women, youth,, and other marginalized groups will most likely be excluded from contesting in electoral processes because they cannot access campaign finances.
- Abuse of state resources such as monopolization of state media; utilization of state institutions’ assets for electioneering logistics; intimidation of opposition supporters by security forces to prevent them from attending rallies; and denial of political rally permits to opposition parties.