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Zec's 2023 general election nomination fees: Contributing to the narratives.

29 Aug 2022 at 21:27hrs | Views
In Zimbabwe political parties do not have to pay fees to participate in elections neither are they registered by the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) as is the case in countries which include Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa and the United Kingdom just to mention a few. However, to register as candidate, a person must pay a fee. On Friday the 19th of August, a Statutory Instrument (SI) 144 of 2022 was revealed Zec's Nomination Fees for prospective candidates who may want to join the race in the 2023 harmonised elections as follows. For Presidential US$20 000 up from US$1 000 while and parliamentary candidates will have to part with US$$1 000 up from US$100. Senate and Women Quota candidates will now pay US$200 while aspiring candidates for council election will not pay a fee. Prospective candidates with also have an option to pay in local currency using the prevailing willing buyer willing seller rate. This review of nomination fee hike has become a highly contested issue in recent days effectively setting up a 'quarrel between the present and the past' fees.

Ever since, Zec has been on defensive mode literally arguing that the philosophy behind the fees, is to limit the candidates and to give value to the institutions of parliament and office of the president. With Zec spokesperson Commissioner Jasper Mangwana stating that the measure is to exclude fly by night "chancers" from running for public office pointing to the 23 presidential candidates in 2018 which he claims was excessive for voters and has potential to create "confusion" if not "mayhem" in the voting booth, he said while contributing to a Zec programme on Classic 263, local radio station last Friday. On the other hand opponents of the fees hikes would like Zec to consider the issue of right of each citizen to participate in elective position and as such, the fee must not be prohibitive so as to make it impossible for ordinary Zimbabwean to raise the fee. After all, is the able to pay also always able to govern well? No good governance by the poor leaders? They ask rhetorically. This fees hike will create one or two party state. This is their worry. After all among positive theorists and empirical students of democracy, regard for political parties is higher.

This brings us to a central claim of democratic theory that democracy induces governments to be responsive to the preferences of the people. Political parties organise politics in every modern democracy, and some observers claim that parties are what induce democracies to be responsive. Yet, according to others, political parties give voice to a few and reduce the efficiency of governments to the citizenry. The debate about parties and democracy takes on renewed importance in Zimbabwe as new nomination fees resonate with the ever present struggle with issues of representation and governability. As a result, the newly gazetted nomination fees must be considered carefully to ensure inappropriate and misleading comparisons are not made because in other countries nomination fees may be refunded to the candidate if he/she gets a certain defined percentage of votes. I respectfully show that our view of the impact of the new fees on democratic responsiveness hinges on a balance of probability that their objective is the suffocation of multiparty democracy through the unequal distribution of the pains and costs of elections. As a general ‘rule' an authoritarian style of governance has no requirement for genuinely contested elections. it is imperative to ensure criticisms regarding high nomination fees are publicly debated and placed in a context based on facts, law and agreed societal values and not take other contexts as 'one size fit all.'

As noted earlier, Zec's argument for the use the high cost of nomination forms is to screen candidates and reduce the practice of aspirants playing spoiler or using the process as an opportunity to negotiate their personal ambitions. It is glaring from the high cost of nomination fees imposed by Zec that the commercialisation of politics is fast becoming an indelible feature of Zimbabwe's political culture.

The outrageous nomination fees reinforces three possible proposition manner with which Zec increase the cost of nomination fees with well notable excitement reinforces Zec as rent-seeking institution with no regard for inclusive democratic participation. Second, it affirms the dearth of ideological path under which Zec is framed whether directly or indirectly. In other words, Zec subscribe to the notion that money should ordinarily define presidential and parliamentary leadership nomination process. And lastly, the antidote to the evolution of a multi-party state rests squarely on a comprehensive and meaningful nomination fees reform that encompasses context and within reach for all and not for the few as is the current arrangement were only political parties that garner at least 5 percent of the votes in a general election get some form of funding from the state under the Political Parties Finance Act which however, Zec has no power over. Fair competition is the hallmark of candidate nomination for any Elections Management Body (EMB) that include Zec. Imposing high costs on nomination fees limits accessibility to political entrepreneurs with deep pockets and wide patronage networks, thereby further shrinking the already 'same face contest' political space.

 When money shapes politics of the day, it assaults the very democratic right of all citizens to reserve the right contest for public office, especially where it determines who qualifies to participate in politics. As the spokesperson of Zec Commissioner Jasper Mangwana opined; "if you have the support (of the voters) then surely you can raise US$20 000" while answering a question on Classic 263 radio. In other words he is literally saying if you do not have US$20 000, you have no business with becoming president. The implication is the evolution of a state that is governed and exists to serve wealthy elites at the detriment of popular participation. Inertia towards electoral participation is a knock-on effect of a commercialized political process that Zec tend to ignore. As long as money, not competence, character, or popular appeal, operates as a fundamental variable in Nomination Court process by Zec voters will refrain from voting because commercialised political processes are more likely to produce unpopular unaccountable, and incompetent candidates. Needless to say, a highly monetised process hinder the political aspiration of youth and women and infringes on the spirit behind the framers of the Constitution. To a large extent, the justification advanced by Zec for the high nomination fees is implausible. Zec claim that the high monetary value placed on the nomination fees is a due diligence measure to distinguish pretenders from contenders. To Zec, it is a parameter for measuring interest, seriousness, and commitment to contest for office. In the absence of a holistic reform of the current state funding arrangement for political parties that favours popularity, parties may find it difficult to generate revenue from membership to fund nomination fees and moreso party activities. This will encourage parties to sale nomination to the highest bidder. What will become of the poor but able leadership? Some quarters may argue the exorbitant nomination fees are attributed to inflation. The reliance on the high nomination fees as a due diligence measure indicts Zec for failing to invest in long-term budgetary calculations that encompass development, retention, and transition to the final phase of the election cycle.

If Zec maintain consistent, inclusive, and structured engagements with political parties on policy framework, it will address the high nomination fees question. Through strategic engagement opportunities, the nomination fees philosophy and values of Zec can be espoused and inculcated into political parties' especially now that we are in the electioneering season. Prospective candidates may have been be identified, groomed, and empowered to file for nominations as when the Nomination Court sits in less than nine months from now if one analyse the timing of elections in 2023.

It is counterproductive for Zec to dampen the spirits of the already elusive unregistered voters, hesitant registered voters and now the prospective contender/candidates. The true test of a Zec's commitment to decommercialise politics is its long-term refocus on getting funding from the appropriate national purse which is direct from treasury- an approach and strategy that does not result in further commercilisation of politics. Furthermore, the trial and error over-dependence on revenue from the sale of nomination forms to run Zec affairs exposes the poor health of the election body. Ideally, government fund Zec, but the reverse is the case in Zimbabwe, where candidates are now literally expected to fund Zec.

A reasonable nominal fee from Zec frees resources that allows candidates to communicate with voters and to challenge traditional political elites, making politics more competitive. In addition, a reasonable fee enables candidates to focus on solutions to real bread and butter issues. Therefore upholding Zec high nomination fees will sanitise its skewed finance ecosystem that is seen as biased or distorted in a way that is regarded as inaccurate, unfair, or misleading. Other times they might be the expression of a sincere desire for a country's electoral system to be simplified and made less costly to implement because when Zec is adamant that it is barreling ahead and makes a commitment to execute the high fees, to do it over a period of time in a way that does not give it a lot of time to adjust to errors and problems, that political momentum is often hard to resist. As l have said above; it's a quarrel 'between the past and the present' fees that require solution driven public debate something that Zec seem not willing to do now and possibly in the near future because the powers are invested in it to do what it has done to further erode democracy.

Farai Chirimumimba is a Freelance Journalist- Democracy, Elections and
Gender Issues.

Source - Farai Chirimumimba
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