Campaign finance a hot topic in Zimbabwe

The topic of campaign finance is rarely far from the minds of politicians or pundits in the run-up to elections — and Zimbabwe is no exception to this rule. With the country in the midst of a political and economic crisis, it may even be a hotter topic of discussion here than elsewhere.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in Zimbabwe in six weeks’ time.

The previous two polls, parliamentary and presidential elections held in 2000 and 2002 respectively, were marred by violence that was mostly directed against the opposition. Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party was also accused of monopolising the state media and rigging the voters’ roll to ensure victory over its main competitor — the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

After initially declaring that it would boycott the upcoming vote, the MDC reversed its position earlier this month.

Concerns about a repeat of electoral violence aside, the party now faces the challenge of mounting a campaign at a time when the world’s highest inflation rate and widespread unemployment are said to have dealt a blow to MDC finances — and even as the financial situation in Zanu-PF is probably somewhat different.

MDC spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi says local donations have dwindled under the weight of these economic difficulties.

But, “The position has always been that those in the state have access to resources they can abuse which the opposition, no matter how much you can raise from your friends, cannot match,” adds political analyst Lovemore Madhuku.

After winning almost half of the contested seats in the last parliamentary election, the MDC does qualify for state funding. However, party officials say this money does not go very far.

According to secretary general Welshman Ncube, about R319 000 were allocated to the MDC last year — while the party’s monthly salary bill alone came to about R104 000.

In a move that surprised many, the government announced that it would also disburse just more than R3,2-million to the MDC this year (and almost R3,4-million to Zanu-PF) as part of the annual party grant.

Eddie Cross, the MDC’s economic adviser, welcomes this development. But, he adds: “To deploy and help our election agents to all the thousands of polling stations will cost us more than the total grant from the state — in one day.”

Airtime on state radio and television, the only broadcasters permitted in Zimbabwe, will cost parties R4 060 a minute for prime-time slots. There has also been a twentyfold increase in the deposit payable by candidates in each of the 120 parliamentary constituencies — and a 1 000% rise in the cost of the voters’ register. It now costs an astonishing R7 540 for a copy of the register.

For its part, the government accuses the MDC of getting money from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and United States President George Bush. These two leaders became the principal targets of Harare’s ire after they condemned Zimbabwe’s controversial land-reform programme, allegedly instituted to correct racial imbalances in land ownership, and human rights abuse in the country.

Claims that the opposition group is benefiting from foreign funding may grow louder with the launch of an appeal this month by self-described “concerned individuals” who say they are seeking to raise funds, in- and outside Zimbabwe, for what they term “support of the democratic process”.

Distributed via a selective mailing list, the appeal gives an account number in neighbouring South Africa where people outside Zimbabwe can deposit donations. For those in Zimbabwe, the correspondence gives a mailing address where cheques and money orders are to be sent in the name of Zimfund.

Aside from money, the organisers of this appeal are also asking for 2 400 vehicles and drivers to be made available for election day, to transport monitors to polling stations, among other duties.

“$30 [R174] will fill the tank of a vehicle; a gift of R50 000 will fund the campaign in a single constituency,” the appeal notes.

Fiery opposition politician Margaret Dongo, founder of the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats, alleges that both Zanu-PF and the MDC are tapping into foreign funds.

In another electoral development, four journalists who work for foreign news organisations have fled Zimbabwe in recent days, this after the secret police reportedly accused them of spying and producing reports that slandered the state.

This incident appears to fly in the face of electoral guidelines adopted by the Southern African Development Community during a summit held in Mauritius in August 2004: under these rules, member states are obliged to ensure press freedom in order to provide an environment conducive for a fair campaign. — IPS

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