In this latest installment of his column, Pedestrian Opinion, our columnist Mike Murenzvi asks whether the fees that Zimbabwean candidates pay to run for office are really too high. And, what does it say about supporters and their contributions to their causes?
In what has been termed exclusionary and exorbitant, the Zimbabwe Elections Commission (ZEC) increased nomination fees for candidates running in this year’s elections. Are these fees so high that they exclude many potential candidates or induce a sense of shock?
In its first two Elections Watch bulletin for 2022, legal watchdog Veritas castigated the new fees. The organisation raised several grounds on which they determine that the fees could be invalidated by a competent court.
The enabling SI 144 of 2022 gazetted on 19 August 2022 set new fees for different candidate classes; Presidential, National Assembly, and Party Lists. The fees are set in United States Dollars but are also payable in Zimbabwe Dollars at the official exchange rate on the day.
General Dynamics of Electoral Campaigns
It is ordinarily expected that any political candidate goes into a race with known supporters, and they campaign to convince other voters to vote for them. Election campaigns cost quite a bit of money to run effectively at any level and this is where the supporters come in with financial support, over and above what the candidate would have committed.
Here, we take a look at each of the fees outside of just the money.
Presidential Nomination: US$20,000 (previous amount US$1,000)
A presidential candidate seeks to win an election of the whole country to the extent that they win more than 50% of the electoral vote. According to ZEC, there are close to six million registered voters in the country. In the event of a full voter turnout, a winning candidate must garner nearly three million votes.
Based on the numbers expected above, it stands to reason that a candidate should be able to raise US$20,000 or the local equivalent through donations from supporters and other campaign contributions. In simple terms, the nomination fee can be broken down to US$1 each from 20,000 supporters or 50 US cents from 40,000 supporters.
Member of Parliament (National Assembly): US$1,000 (previous amount US$50)
A candidate for the National Assembly seeks to win an election of a constituency on a first-past-the-post system. Simply put, the winner is whoever gets the most votes. The 2023 Delimitation Report set the minimum and maximum constituency populations at between 22,000 and 33,000 respectively. Due to the nature of the specific contest, we can’t project a minimum number of votes to win. However, it stands to reason that the number is more than 1,000 votes.
Using the same theory as with Presidential candidates, a National Assembly candidate should be able to find 1,000 people to support their campaign and back it up with at least US$1 each of monetary support for their candidate of choice. Alternatively, the candidate must foot the bill themselves or through support from their political party, if any.
Are the fees exorbitant?
Based on the support rationale above, and the numbers involved for any serious candidate, we can see that the new nomination fees aren’t as daunting as they may look. It is imperative for a candidate to have both voter and financial support from the constituents, and, where applicable, their political party.