ZESN Public Meeting on “Political Party Regulation: Considerations for Zimbabwe”

On Tuesday 14 July, 2020, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) hosted a virtual public meeting to discuss the topic “Political Parties Regulation – Considerations for Zimbabwe.” The meeting had 6 panelists and 3 discussants. The panelists consisted of two representatives from the major political parties, namely Hon. Paul Mangwana, the ZANU PF Secretary for Legal Affairs and Councillor Jacob Mafume, the Spokesperson for the Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance. There was also a political analyst Professor Brian Raftopoulous, based in Cape Town South Africa, Nancy Kachingwe, a Gender and Public Policy consultant, legal experts Dr. James Tsabora, a Lecturer from the University of Zimbabwe, and Fadzai Traquino, the Director of the Women and Law Southern Africa (WLSA).

In her introductory remarks, the moderator noted that various local, regional and international Election Observer Missions were invited to observe the 2018 harmonised elections in Zimbabwe. In their election observers’ reports, the Missions made some recommendations that the ZESN compiled into a Compendium of Election Recommendations. The compendium details a total of 223 recommendations reviewing the legislative and electoral framework in line with the Constitution of Zimbabwe and regional and international principles governing the conduct of democratic elections. These recommendations are on a number of electoral related themes including the regulation of political parties. The recommendations emphasize the need for regulation of political party activities including the need for registration of political parties, the promotion of transparency and accountability in political party financing, creating a level playing field for election campaigning and establishing sanctions for non-compliance to the laid rules.

The representatives from political parties were the first to give their opinions on political party regulation. The ZANU-PF representative, Hon Paul Mangwana, was of the opinion that political parties, like any other institution, must exist not only according to the Constitution, but to subsidiary legislation as well. He explained that regulation will also help in doing away with the issues of exclusion by not allowing parties that are based on religion, ethnicity and region. He noted that the fears about political party regulation are founded on an irrational belief that regulation of political parties will lead to many cases of parties being deregistered or banned. He blamed the current challenges in the opposition to an absence of a political party regulatory framework.

The second panelist, MDC Alliance representative Councilor Jacob Mafume was against regulation of political parties, citing the manipulative nature of regulatory institutions in Zimbabwe. He gave an example of the media industry where he noted that regulation in that industry was used to stifle and destroy fundamental human rights. According to Mafume, the problem in Zimbabwe is “Who regulates the regulator?” He emphasized that as long as the regulators cannot be regulated, we cannot give more to regulation in Zimbabwe.

Another panelist, Fadzai Traquino noted that the need for regulation is not only unique to the Zimbabwean situation, as it is commonplace in other jurisdictions, including South Africa and Kenya. Traquino was of the thinking that from a gender perspective, regulation will be able to tame the lawless jungle which has resulted in limited participation of women in political affairs. She also noted that regulation is good as it can be used to control issues of public funding for political parties, as an incentive for good behavior and for sanctioning bad behavior. The panelist recommended a Registrar of Political Parties who will be appointed by Parliament and go through public interviews.

The fourth panelist, Dr. Tsabora, a legal expert, was in support of political party regulation. In his own words, political party regulation “infuses good values of the Constitution into political parties”. He noted that it is better to have a law in place which improves gradually than to have no law at all. He also gave an overview of the ZESN Draft Political Parties Regulation Bill, noting proposals in the Bill as below:

  • The Bill stipulates conditions to be met by political parties for registration
  • The requirement for Political Party Constitutions
  • Conditions for de-registration
  • Provisions for renewal of registration
  • Offences and penalties
  • Accountability systems for finance

Dr. Tsabora went on to propose the inclusion of provisions of coalitions and mergers of political parties, which he said are a common phenomenon in African politics.

Another panelist, Gender and Public Policy consultant Nancy Kachingwe, started off by blaming the political culture in the country for stifling the participation of women in politics. She highlighted that she aspires a political space that can be equated to the game of football, where rules are strictly observed. Kachingwe called for a comprehensive Political Parties Act which will ensure equality of men and women in political participation and also uphold the constitutions of political parties.

The last panelist, Professor Raftopoulous was of the opinion that although regulation is a good idea, it would not be easy to implement in a context like Zimbabwe where there is a clear conflation of the state and the party in power. He explained that the state and the ruling party are built on violence and tend to undermine all democratic institutions established by the Supreme Law of the land, the Constitution. He castigated the state for not instilling trust in its citizens and emphasized that it would be difficult to recommend political party regulation in such a context as it will be abused.

A total of three discussants from the smaller political parties also took part in the discussion. Namely Dr. Maxwell Shumba of Zimbabwe First (ZimFirst), Dr. Nkosana Moyo and Thabani Mnyama of the Alliance for the Peoples Agenda (APA). The general feeling from the smaller parties was that although regulation of political parties is a good idea, it would be problematic in Zimbabwe. Dr. Maxwell Shumba accused the ruling party of the tendency to abuse power at every given opportunity and therefore would use that opportunity to destroy the opposition in Zimbabwe. Dr. Nkosana Moyo recommended the full implementation of pieces of legislation that are already there, in particular the Constitution of Zimbabwe before coming up with new laws. Thabani Mnyama bemoaned the independence of regulatory bodies, saying that even if we come up with one for political parties, it is likely to be compromised like the ones that are already there.

When the discussion was opened to the floor, most participants did not support political party regulation in Zimbabwe, instead opting for concentrating on the Electoral Reform Agenda and also the full alignment of the laws to the constitution. Participants emphasized that there is no need to come up with new legislation before we have implemented the ones we already have. Some of the recommendations proffered by participants were that Zimbabwe should deal with the problems of institutional worthiness first in order to come up with independent institutions.

In conclusion, there was generally a stronger case against the regulation of political parties. However, those who were in favour of political party regulation emphasized the need for working towards the promotion of independent regulatory bodies that would ensure the attainment of Constitutional Democracy in political parties.

Below is the link to the public meeting

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=3143622205726752