Biti calls for mass protests as ZEC pegs shock election fees; Madhuku says they are ‘excessive, undemocratic and unconstitutional’

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By Alois Vinga

CITIZENS Coalition for Change (CCC) lawmaker, Tendai Biti has described the recently gazetted fees for contesting candidates ahead of the much awaited 2023 general elections as a plot to seal off democratic space, amid calls for citizens to take to the streets to push reversal of the exclusionary tariffs.

The Harare East legislator’s remarks come shortly after the enactment of Statutory Instrument 144 of 2022, which now requires those aspiring to hold office of president to fork out US$20 000 payable in cash or at the prevailing official rate equivalent.

Under the new regulations, Members of Parliament (MP) contestants will now be asked to pay US$1,000, Senate and Local Authorities US$100 with the same figure paid for election observation.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) also moved to charge US$10 for an electronic copy of the voters’ roll with data on one polling station voters, US$15 for the ward level voters’ roll, US$50 for the constituency voters’ roll, US$150 for the provincial voters’ roll and US$200 for the national voters’ roll.

Speaking exclusively to Saturday, Biti accused the elections management body of working in cahoots with Zanu PF to shut democratic space ahead of the 2023 plebiscite by pegging extortionate fees, which are out of the reach of many ordinary folk.

“They are playing games aimed at closing democratic space. In fact, this is just the beginning of the shenanigans to shrink the space. It is clear that ZEC has already started the bidding for the Zanu PF party,” Biti said.

Quizzed on what possible options political parties, prospective candidates and the general public could explore to reverse the exorbitant fees, the opposition leader called for a more aggressive approach.

“Political parties, aspiring citizens and stakeholders must just take to the streets to demand the restoration of their constitutionally given rights. Before we even talk about the unconstitutionality of the move, one question we are asking is why have the fees increased now?

“Zimbabwe has held elections 14 times since attainment of independence in 1980 with candidates not being asked to pay such exorbitant fees to contest. This time around it is just clear that Zanu PF is scared of the impending CCC President Nelson Chamisa’s victory, and they are doing all they can to block that,” he said.

Constitutional law expert and democracy activist, Professor Lovemore Madhuku also took a swipe at ZEC for hiking election fees hinting that it would be very expensive for citizens to exercise their right.

Politician and top lawyer Professor Lovemore Madhuku

“Excessive, undemocratic and unconstitutional. ZEC fails to appreciate that a ” free and fair” election starts from the idea that being a candidate must not be unaffordable to an ordinary politician. The amounts must be substantially reduced. US$500 000 for a party to field ALL candidates?” he said.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) chairperson, Peter Mutasa described the tariffs as a new high in the “entrenchment of authoritarian rule”.

“They (Zanu PF) are aware that they do not have popular support and are fearing free, fair and credible elections. The pre-occupation, therefore is to make it extremely difficult for the opposition to challenge them.

“These costs are discriminatory; they side-line the poor candidates’ in communities from getting a chance to be elected into power. So what it means is that the forthcoming elections will be a contest of thieves who plunder the national purse because they are the ones who can afford it.

“This is unconstitutional. Only if we had independent courts could citizens challenge the move for a better outcome,” he said.

Contacted for comment and quizzed on the rationale behind approving the fees, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi distanced himself from the matter.

“I am not answerable on that one. It is Parliament which makes the laws. Those complaining must go there. Parliament will sit down and hear their submissions which may be approved or disapproved depending on what they consider. I can’t even speak on behalf of ZEC,” he said.

Efforts to get a comment from ZEC were fruitless after one top official in the organisation said the media can only be entertained during working hours.