The centrality of political parties to democracy in Zimbabwe is unanimously acknowledged. However, this paper highlights the contradiction where political parties that have glaring capacity deficits expect that everything around them has to change to meet their expectations while they continue to operate the same way. That is, parties expect to be funded by the state, demand constitutional and electoral reforms yet remain silent on the pragmatics of how they too need to comply with the formal rules.
The absence of a legislation regulating political parties in Zimbabwe is identified as the major problem. Consequently, the country is faced with challenges of election related disputes and conflict, volatile party system and lack of political party accountability. Furthermore, this is blamed for the administrative challenges that beset the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) during elections.
The paper identifies the fault lines in the legal framework which although not inhibiting the formation and operation of political parties, falls short of defining what political parties are or ought to be as well as categorically stating how they are to be established, what are their functions, limits, modalities for their funding and accountability measures. This has led to a ballooning number of political parties especially during an election season where in the period before the 2018 Harmonised elections there was a record number of 127 political parties. The proliferation has led to an unstable party system manifest in the deteriorating relations between political parties and society on one hand between parties especially due to splits on the other.
The paper rebuts the notion that political parties are private entities and therefore reserving the right to manage their affairs and conduct their business as they please. It argues that the fact that they contest power to run public office and become beneficiaries of public funds makes them accountable and must be regulated like any other public institution.
The paper uses 4 examples from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and East African Community (EAC) to motivate for the regulation of parties. In an example from the SADC region, Lesotho and South African legal frameworks provide for the regulation of political parties where the election management body (EMB) is bestowed with the powers to register and de-register political parties, intervene in their disputes and demand them to account on public funds it dispenses to them on behalf of the Treasury.
In the EAC region, Kenya and Tanzania are used to illustrate a case there is legislation that governs the registration, operations, funding and accountability of political parties as well as legislation establishing an oversight mechanism in the form of the office of the Registrar of Political Parties.
The paper concludes by underscoring the fact that political parties are crucial actors in Zimbabwe’s democratic transition. It agitates for resourcing through regulation that allows for public and private sources of funding. At the same time, it underlines the need for their urgent regulation so that they are held accountable as pubic institutions. The paper ends by recommending that:
- The legal clauses that ban private funding of parties must be amended and a comprehensive campaign and party funding law must be promulgated based on best practices.
- Political parties must be regulated to ensure that they adhere to a certain legal and normative framework in terms of their internal functioning, financing and code of conduct.
- A statutory body akin to the Kenyan Registrar of Parties, be established to deal with the registration of parties instead of the EMB.
- Care must be taken to ensure that calls for the regulation of political parties are genuine and meant to enhance of party systems, inter-party relations and build stronger political parties.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)