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Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Opposition Challenge

NAREP's Elias Chipimo on the opposition's greatest challenge :
The big challenge for the opposition is being able to muster the right level of resources, especially for an opposition like Narep. Although it is the fastest-growing party, it is still establishing itself as a serious force in our politics in this country..the big challenge with these by-elections is the size of the constituencies. And if you notice, it is the ruling party that has unlimited resources at its disposal to be able to ensure that it covers every polling district..
The lack of a "level playing field" is a problem. However, we must not necessarily assume PF is using taxpayers' money. I don't think that is what Chipimo means. Rather by virtue of being the party in government, PF is able to attract funding particularly from big businesses, in a way that NAREP or other opposition parties can't. Parties are political investment. The PF brand is currently hot property.

It goes without saying that PF is not the first nor will it be the last to place itself at the mercy of big business. In 2011 when President Banda was soliciting for campaign money he advised his party MMD :
"Don’t underestimate our opponents, don’t think you are the only ones with resources because you don’t know where the opposition get their resources from. We have to work hard at being in good terms with the business community. Listen to them, understand their problems and do something about it..."
Now if that was not a good reason for reforming "party funding" then I don't know what is. We had the country's most powerful man at the time admitting that he pandered to larger and more powerful forces for money. The big problem then and now is the lack of rules that regulate party funding in Zambia. Each man does as he pleases.

We all remember the controversy of the 2006 campaign when it was reported that Mr Sata, who had criticized Chinese investors, was being bankrolled by Taiwanese business interests. There was no public mechanism to confirm or refute the allegations, and the episode served to shed light on the need for better accounting of campaign revenues and expenditures.

The lack of party funding regulation presents economically powerful actors with an opportunity to exert undue influence on our politics. As Mr Banda's statement clearly showed!

It is vital that we reform this area to ensure a level playing field. The answer is not public finance. That would be economic folly. We cant ask the public to fund political parties because these are NOT public goods. Political parties are just like any other investment. If your brand is correct and offers a good return, people are more than willing to invest their money and time to make it work. If your brand is poor, no money will be forth coming. People and organisations are waiting to queue to fund political parties and this will continue as Zambia becomes an attractive place to invest and political competition improves.

The key is to ensure a level playing field through a stronger legal framework that encourages fair play and political competition. Greater political competition should encourage investment in political parties. Those parties that cannot attract funding may need to consider whether their "political brand" is as attractive as it ought to be.

Crucially, they should dedicate their energy to pushing for a level playing field through a new Political Parties Bill in parliament. This can happen today, no need to wait for a new constitution.

Chola Mukanga | Economist | Writer
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2013

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