A feminist analysis of Zimbabwe’s Nomination Fees for the 2023 Election
By Glanis Changachirere
Zimbabwe will have its harmonised elections on the 23rd August 2023. The elections happen following an unprecedented number of urgent court applications that have seen three legal challenges held, all in the month of June, against the country’s candidate nomination fees. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), with approval from the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs increased the fees through Statutory Instrument (SI) 144 of 2022 gazetted on 19 August 2022, alongside Statutory Instrument (SI) 145 of 2022 which increased the costs of accessing an electronic copy of a polling area, national and hard copy voters’ roll. The nomination fees have made the country’s cost of running for political office for Presidency and the National Assembly highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. The high cost of the nomination fees have far reaching socio-economic and political implications in a country that has suffered a perpetual economic and financial crisis.
While most Zimbabweans are affected by the exorbitant nomination fees, women, young men and persons with disabilities (PWDs) are affected the most. This is so, because these demographic groups are historically affected by intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalisation. The quality of elections in Zimbabwe is also affected as fundamental information and conditions such as the voters’ roll and easy access thereof that contribute towards quality of elections attract high financial costs. This analysis provides a summary of the ZEC gazetted nomination fees, highlights the outcome of the legal challenges against the nomination fees and looks at the structural and practical implications of the fees in Zimbabwe’s 2023 elections.
The new pricing of Zimbabwe’s nomination fees placed the country’s financial cost for electoral participation by candidates among the highest. According to a cost analysis done by the Institute for Young Women Development (IYWD) in August 2022, on nomination fees for presidential candidates among Southern and Eastern Africa countries, Zimbabwe has the highest cost, which was reviewed upwards to USD20 000. The second highest is Zambia that has a huge margin with Zimbabwe’s and the costs are varied on the basis of gender, age and disability. For example male candidates, pay an estimated equivalent of USD5 872 and remain in the same position as second highest even for the female, candidates at estimated equivalence of USD4 636 and USD3 700 for youth and persons with disability (PWD). Kenya also has varied costs depending on the candidate’s age, gender and disability. For general candidates, the cost is an estimated equivalent of USD1 666. If the candidate is a youth, woman or PWD, the estimated cost is an equivalent of USD833. Countries such as Malawi also have varied fees based on gender while for Namibia the variations are based on political party or independent candidate basis (IYWD August 2022). Some countries including South Africa and Botswana have no nomination fees for the same post (IYWD August 2022).
For National Assembly cost, Zimbabwe remains the highest at USD1000, followed by Zambia which has different costs based on gender. Male and female candidates pay an estimated equivalent of USD927 and USD835 respectively (IYWD August 2022). Youth and PWD’s pay an estimated equivalent of USD618. For Kenya the charges are USD166 for male candidates and USD83 for female, youth and PWDs. Botswana and South Africa’s nomination fees are in the range of USD35 while Angola and Mozambique have no nomination fees.
Parliamentary and Judicial Failure on Constitutional Rights
The gazetting of the exorbitant fees by ZEC saw condemnation and different actions from different sectors of Zimbabwean society. The Institute for Young Development is one among many actors who acted to challenge the exorbitant nomination fees. The organisation petitioned Parliament to plead with ZEC and the responsible Ministry to review downwards the nomination fees to 2018 rates while consulting citizens and different stakeholders on new fees structure. Sadly, the action yielded no result as Parliament only held the hearing on the Petition in May 2023 and failed to give feedback and their recommended action before proclamation of the election. According to Zimbabwean law, any law or policy directive made after proclamation becomes invalid for the election proclaimed.
The desperate efforts to have the exorbitant nomination fees reversed to allow affordable participation and representation of young women, women, young men and PWDs in the 2023 election continued, despite the Parliamentary inaction to resolve the matter. IYWD in collaboration with its #VoteRunLeadReloaded alumni Linda Masarira a Presidential candidate for Labour, Economists and African Democrats (LEAD), and Lynnet Tendai Mudehwe a female independent for National Assembly aspirant took legal action against the nomination fees. The trio were supported legally by Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) which instructed Advocate Choice Damiso to file an urgent Constitutional court application for reversal of the nomination fees to the 2018 rate. The matter was dismissed on a technicality that the matter is not a constitutional matter as Statutory Instruments are not constitutional matters.
Similarly, an urgent high court application filed by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) on behalf of a young woman prospective candidate Vongai Zimudzi and a current Member of Parliament Allan Markham and others was dismissed on another technicality that the matter was not urgent. In another matter, filed by a presidential aspirant represented by Lovemore Madhuku, the constitution ruled that Parliament ought to have exercised their oversight role on SI144/2022 and tasked them to review the nomination fees by June 16 2023. Unfortunately, the ruling was passed after the proclamation and remains invalid for the 2023 election.
With the failure by Parliament and Judiciary to address the plight of Zimbabweans on their constitutional participation and representation right, the nomination fees present a number of structural and practical implications that affect the 2023 elections.
Overall implications of the Nomination Fees on the Gender Equality Principle
The exorbitant nomination fees raised a number of problems broadly for women, youth and the generality of the ordinary Zimbabwean citizens who could benefit from women’s representation. The fees generally increased the cost of political participation and representation in an already plummeting economy where the majority of citizens are living below the Poverty Datum Line. More nuanced effects of the nomination fees are as follows:
Firstly, the nomination fees conflict with the letter and spirit of the constitution of Zimbabwe and supportive regional and international instruments aimed at advancing women’s political participation and representation. Specifically, section 56 of the constitution of Zimbabwe provides for the right to equality and non-discrimination. Sections 17 and 20 further state that the government needs to put in place measures to promote participation of youth and women in all spheres of life including socio-economic and political spheres. Zimbabwe also ratified the African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance (ACDEG) in July 2022.
Article 29 sections (2) and (3) of ACDEG state that:
(2) State Parties shall create necessary conditions for full and active participation of women in the decision making processes and structures at all levels as a fundamental element in the promotion and exercise of a democratic culture
(3) State Parties shall take all possible measures to encourage the full and active participation of women in the electoral process and ensure gender parity in representation at all levels, including legislative
The nomination fees set by the ZEC therefore clearly contradicts the government’s obligation to facilitate mechanisms and conditions that promote constitutionalism and democratic participation of women. It is sad to note that despite numerous court applications litigating against the exorbitant fees, the courts treated the matter in ways that fail the very constitution that the judiciary should uphold.
Secondly, the exorbitant fees set the country back on the gains made to address historical inequalities and discrimination. The nomination fees reinforce intersecting gendered and classed inequalities and are a tool for discrimination in themselves. In a political system where there are weak institutions and mechanisms for transparent and accountable governance, the fees serve to create a pool of elite politicians who are not obliged to be accountable to the electorate but put their allegiance to their ‘electoral investment’. When politicians are their own ‘investors’, and the government is dominated by men, it is difficult to prioritise legislation and development agendas that benefit women and girls and other marginalised populations.
Lastly, the nomination fees have enormously eroded gains made towards gender parity over the years. Young women and women in Zimbabwe have already been braving a highly patriarchal and repressive political system, a struggle that has over the years seen a gradual increase in the number of women running for office. Using a case study of the IYWD’s #VoteRunLeadReloaded programme, it has witnessed huge successes in young women and women actively seeking political office. Since the inception of the VoteRunLead programme in 2018, 40 young women joined the programme as aspiring candidates for Parliament and Local Council, 3 of them were successfully elected, 2 as Members of Parliament and 1 as a ward councillor. In 2022 there was a 100% increase in the number of young women and women who joined the programme. 80 women joined and majority of them contested in the various by-elections held in 2022. 7 were successfully elected and occupied positions in parliament, senate and local council. The 2023 cohort was quite promising, with 80 young women and women who joined as aspiring candidates with interest to run for office at different levels. However, at the close of nomination only less than 50% of the women were successfully nominated.
The regression in the numbers of women who will contest for the 2023 elections have also been witnessed at a national level. The national statistics of women contesting as MPs in the 2023 elections has gone down from 14% in 2018 to 11% in 2023 (ZEC 2023). Most of the other female MPs, aspirants from smaller political parties, and independent candidates fell by the sideways as they could not afford to raise the nomination fees.
Bearing testimony to the widely acknowledged reality that in our patriarchal African society women are financially disadvantaged than their male counterparts, the two (2) female Presidential candidates who had gone all their way out ,the candidacy of Elisabeth Valerio of UNZA and Linda Masarira of LEAD were disqualified. Despite pegging the nomination fees in equivalence in local currency, the fees were also problematic in that ZEC was not accepting electronic payments made in real time gross settlement (RTGS). This was the case of the 2 female presidential candidates Elisabeth Valerio and Linda Masarira who got further disenfranchised as they sought to pay their nomination fees electronically. Resultantly there is no female presidential candidate in the 2023 elections. All the 11 nominated candidates are men. This represents an overall decline of 17% from the 2018 presidential election which had 4 women out of the 23 nominated candidates.
Although there were other factors contributing to the regression, the biggest challenge for women candidates was the cost of participation in the election, starting with the nomination fees and then an insurmountable task of the cost of campaigning. This is worrisome as it is a clear sign that socio-economic, political and legal conditions to create a level playing field for women in politics are not improving for the better. Compounded by a highly patriarchal authoritarian political system and environment in which the overall shrinking of civic space is being witnessed through other laws such as the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill, the Patriotic Bill being promulgated, takes away the much needed civic space to mobilise and organise young women and women to participate. While it remains arguable that other factors may be shifting towards a general acceptance of women’s participation in politics, the structural and systematic exclusion of women for instance through the exorbitant nomination fees and repressive legislation have the effect of eroding gains previously made.
Author: This analysis was adapted from the Institute for Young Women Development (IYWD)’s Pre-Election Long Term Feminist Analysis and edited by Glanis Changachirere. The IYWD is a feminist organisation that promotes the participation of young women and women in decision making and politics. The full report is available at iywd.org. IYWD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org