Is political parties registration not an electoral reform?

15 Aug, 2022 - 00:08 0 Views
Is political parties registration not an electoral reform? Nelson Chamisa

The Herald

Gibson Nyikadzino Correspondent

Zimbabwe’s political landscape requires a paradigm shift in terms of electoral reforms.

Oftentimes when people talk of electoral reforms, they have stretched their imaginations to point on what they see as anomalies all directed at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

The elections management body, ZEC, is not according to law, mandated to change electoral laws, for that is the duty of the parliamentarians.

It manages the elections using laws that are under its jurisdiction.

What needs to be reformed first in this country pertaining to elections is how political parties come into existence or are formed.

The existing order whereby political parties only notify ZEC that they are now an entity should cease if we are surely interested in the concept of democracy.

The import of the argument in today’s offering looks at the importance of political parties’ registration in the national interest and for the public good.

It is unhealthy to have political parties that only get established through a “notification letter” without established and laid down requirements compelling them to be political organisations that are there to protect national interest.

These reforms should be looked at, not superficially, but as a grassroots exercise that gives social, moral and political capital to leaders that seek the certification of the people as they aspire to participate in Zimbabwe’s multi-party democratic system.

Good examples can also be borrowed or incorporated in this electoral reform process that is suggested here.

It is never wrong

To drive this point home, it is a deliberate decision that the writer has borrowed examples from Australia and the United Kingdom on the registration of political parties.

This helps to deduce that in this era, it is a political malpractice to establish a political party through a “notification letter”.

Also, enough to be convinced that to make gains in a democracy, the existence of political parties needs to be in the framework of the law.

Last November, the Constitutional and Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Equality) Act 2021 in Australia received royal assent.

The new legislation provides guidance on party registration by updating the country’s 1907 Electoral Act so that it reflects the changes to the prevailing political developments, among other things.

This law provides that applications for party registration include a fee of $2 000, signed declarations from 500 members of the party who are on the electoral roll and also the relevant constitutions for the parties. Under this new law, if a political party does not apply, its registration is then cancelled.

In the UK, to register a political party, essentials include a completed application form and a fee of £150, a copy of the party’s constitution setting out its structure and organisation and a copy of the party’s financial scheme, among other requisites.

When political parties are registered in the UK, they immediately assume responsibilities under the electoral law which compels them to report their financing model and scheme in compliance with the electoral provisions.

The financing models and schemes of the political parties are monitored to establish the interest of the parties and also curb the threat of terrorism, in which parties may be financed by non-state actors that have interests which can contaminate the national political fabric.

To think that in Zimbabwe, political parties do not go under this rigorous process when they get registered in a changing world that is facing the threat of terrorism is a call to action.

The correct way is to register the political parties to ensure that they are naturally inclined to serve Zimbabwe’s interests.

Redefining registration

Zimbabwe does not have laws that compel political parties to register to legally exist.

The Political Parties Finance Act of 2001 sees a political party as an association of persons whose primary object is to secure the election of one or more of its members to a local authority or Parliament.

From this provision, the State has no regulation of the political parties and the political parties are free to regulate their affairs as they deem fit.

On another note, political parties in Zimbabwe are categorised as voluntary organisations where entry and exit are free.

But also, these parties are membership based and in the event that a member has committed an offence against the party and its values, they are disciplined through either suspension or expulsion.

Therefore, the idea of having a political party as a voluntary organisation benefits only the political elite who will use the organisation to impose penalties on the offenders because they are members, but do not want them to exit the party freely.

It goes the same for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which argue that as private voluntary organisations their activities must not be regulated, but on the contrary delve into political activism, which at times, is not the area governing the scope of their operations.

Registration of political parties should be done and their legal existence must be done to assess their interests.

In Zimbabwe, political interests have also been driven by the West that is using locals to pursue a foreign agenda, hence registration of parties must serve as a measure of an ensemble’s commitment to serve Zimbabwe.

The guiding methodology

Because political parties are interest groups for many outsiders who have failed to dislodge the nationalist resilience of the masses, a methodology on regulating the funding and identities of these parties must be established.

The issue of political and national identity vis-à-vis the interest of the West to intrude in the local political sphere has to be clearly outlined and upheld if Zimbabwe is serious about this.

Morally and politically, these new organisations should declare their interests and identity through their constitutions as sources of their values.

However, the biggest area is to let the political parties extract their constitutions from the national Constitution so that their identity is defined as premised by the national supreme document.

To those who deny this view, it therefore means that there is a lot to suspect from their activities and by resisting such, it means their handlers deny them the opportunity to be Zimbabwean.

More so, the registered political parties must be compelled to present their sources of income through a half-yearly prepared statement to ensure accountability.

Zimbabwean political parties receive funds through the Political Parties Finance Act.

It is undemocratic to let the political parties just spend the money without presenting to Parliament how they spent it to advance the interests of the people and the nation.

By doing so, this ensures that there is no fertile ground that is being created for outsiders.

It presents Government with the opportunity to trace if there is no dirty money channelled in the local political landscape for nefarious goals.

Avoiding flip-flopping

Events that panned post-2018 elections should serve to inform that if electoral reforms that are most desired in Zimbabwe fail to address the issue of what happened in the opposition then our democracy will bleed.

In the case of Mr Nelson Chamisa, he was the presidential candidate for the MDC-Alliance, but at the same time leading a faction of the MDC-T.

After the election, the “MDC-A went for congress” and Mr Chamisa was “elected” its president.

After realising the complexities that led to his demise in both the MDC-A and MDC-T, he went on to form the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).

It is scenarios like these that the electoral reforms should address so that politicians do not trifle with the minds of the electorate for that is a sin of no small magnitude, politically.

Through these theatrical performances in the sub-ruling space, this oscillation by a person aspiring to hold the highest political office makes the country a vulnerable space to the interests of the external forces.

The previous election also witnessed a record 23 presidential candidates. This writer does not want to suggest that some were running for the presidency as a hobby.

But the registration process for one to be State President should not be done for  cheap, but also should not be exorbitant.

For example, Kenya, with at least 22 million registered voters has four presidential candidates. In a democracy, this highest office should be preserved with modicum befitting it.

When all is said and done, when debate by Zimbabwean parliamentarians around electoral reforms is raised, the debate around the issue should serve the interests of Zimbabwe.

It is also something that should help make reflections on whether it is appropriate or a false start in our emerging democracy to let parties without identity contest elections in Zimbabwe.

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