Zimbabwe is readying for the country’s first post-Mugabe elections, and plenty of new parties have sprung up to compete. There’s just one problem: The parties are having trouble finding money to join the race.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE – Henry Kambizi Mutasa, a 50-year-old architect, founded his own political party, which he named Kambizi.

He wanted to run for president in this year’s elections, but the party can’t afford it, he says. Instead, two party members are running for Parliament.

Politics in Zimbabwe are just too expensive, he says.

The largest parties, such as the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), can easily cover candidate-registration fees and campaigning costs, he adds. But these expenses are preventing smaller and newer parties from competing on an equal footing in the July 30 elections.

The election will be the first in Zimbabwe’s history without former President Robert Mugabe vying for office.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is requiring a $1,000 registration fee from anyone who wishes to run for president, as well as a $50 fee from anyone who wants to compete for parliamentary seats representing the country’s 210 constituencies. Local-government candidates, including councillors and senators, are not required to pay a fee.

Political parties in Zimbabwe are eligible for public funding if they receive at least 5 percent of votes cast in a general election, under the Political Parties Finance Act. According to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, the ZANU-PF and MDC benefit the most from the law. Local experts say these parties can use membership dues, donations and the sale of party regalia to pay for election-related expenses.

In smaller parties, funding looks different. More than 100 political parties did not receive public funding this election season, says Peter Tendai Munyanduri, president of the New Patriotic Front, which has existed for just less than a year. In some cases, the party’s leaders have had to cover election-related costs. Others receive donations. But, in a country with a sputtering economy, there is still not enough money, he says.

The ZEC is requiring a $1,000 registration fee from anyone who wishes to run for president, as well as a $50 fee from anyone who wants to compete for parliamentary seats representing the country’s 210 constituencies.

For small parties that do not reach the 5-percent minimum to receive funding, registration fees add up, says Ibbo Mandaza, a political analyst who advocates for reform of electoral funding.

“There should also be a provision for small parties. That will promote pluralism,” he says.

Including the two members running for seats in Parliament, Mutasa’s party has 15 members and just over 100 supporters, he says. Mutasa lives in Chitungwiza, a township south of Harare that he describes as a stronghold for the MDC.

The party leader says he doesn’t mind that his party has fewer members than other parties. For him, it is a strategy.

“In terms of membership, my party is still very small, but this is deliberate, because I am very careful about whom I admit as a member,” he says. “I don’t want people who come into the party and bring violence, corruption and hate language.”

But Mutasa wants to increase the number of party supporters ahead of the next general election, which will be held in 2023.

Kambizi party members don’t accept donations, Mutasa says. Mutasa is paying for all party expenses, except for the two $50 registration fees paid by each of the party’s parliamentary candidates. Mutasa says this is supposed to allow the party to use its funds for rallies and to gain exposure.

The country’s two main political parties have historically spent thousands of dollars on political rallies. This election season, Mutasa says he has not hosted rallies because he does not have enough money. Using the $300 that he has, the party president has hosted small meetings in his community to help people get to know about Kambizi’s parliamentary candidates, Mutasa says.

But for Viva Zimbabwe, another new party locally known for its strides to include the country’s youth in political decision-making, hefty election-related costs are to be expected, says Patson Mashingaidze, chairman of the party. Zimbabwe’s shaky economy determines even the political scene, he adds.

“I think the fees are OK, and we as party don’t have a problem with them,” he says. “People who are complaining are being unreasonable.” Two party members are running for Parliament this year, and another 11 are running for seats in local government.

Sharon Munjenjema, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.