EC, vigilante groups and the backlash against democracy in Ghana

Ghana stands tall, when it comes to the operation of electoral democracy on the continent of Africa. At least six successive elections have been held since the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, with three of them resulting in regime change from one party to another. It is also refreshing to state that no regime or president has so far contemplated the obnoxious idea of amending the constitution to change term limits in order to stay beyond what the constitution allows.

Complacency:

The records of elections leading to peaceful transfer of power among other positives not notwithstanding, there are certain negative aspects of our elections management system that must be checked before it gets out of hand. In the run up to the 2016 election, the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana took rather reckless and needlessly combative position to reject the papers of the Presidential nominee of the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom, on account of a clerical error in the whole pile of documents submitted to it.

Instead of drawing attention of the PPP to the error for correction to be made, as is the convention which it allowed in the case of other candidates with similar errors, former EC Chairman, Mrs Charlotte Osei, chose to hold a press conference to announce the rejection of the nomination papers obviously with the intention to exclude the PPP’s Presidential Candidate from contesting in the 2016 election.

Exclusion:

In the same 2016 election, the EC further poisoned the election atmosphere with a cut-throat 500% increase in Presidential and 1000% increase in the Parliamentary level filing fees. The only reason the EC advanced for the arbitrary action was the EC’s independence. The fundamental business of any election management body, such as the EC, is to manage agreed electoral rules, regulations and procedures; in a manner that result in free and fair elections whose results are not contested by the parties involved.

To that end, a functional EC is critical for the maintenance of any democracy. In the scheme of good political governance, elections are the vehicles that drive democracies. Democracies have stakeholders. In multi-party democracies, political parties, civil society organisations and politically aware individuals constitute these stakeholders.

It is established by law and through convention, precedent and everything else that, Ghana’s EC does not take disqualification lightly, since time immemorial. And it has been so, simply because of the cardinal requirement of inclusion in any democracy. The right to vote and be voted for is an inalienable human right that must guide all (EMBs) in the delivery of their mandate.

While the EC has not been able to provide any justification for the fee hikes, some officials of the EC have made some of the most pathetic and outrageous arguments in support of the EC action. For instance, they have suggested that intra-party filing fees are higher than what they had slapped on the aspirants.

That is a clear example of comparing apples with oranges. Political parties raise funds through internal filing fees to run intra-party elections. The EC on the other hand is funded by the state with annual budgets approved by Parliament for monies to be disbursed from the consolidated fund.

Besides, donor funds towards governance and gender are all over the place looking for credible and accountable institutions for disbursement. If it is about raising money, is it the case that the EC has been lazy or lacks the knowledge and skill to access the funds?

Election and violence:

The operation of informal vigilante groups by the two major political parties (NDC and NPP) to ostensibly “protect” the ballot box that has led to occasional election violence has assumed a heightened dimension with the main opposition NDC which lost power to the NPP in 2016, threatening to strengthen its own vigilante forces to match the NPP “boot for boot”.

While I agree that the threats issued by the General Secretary of the NDC Johnson Asiedu Nketia, should be treated with the contempt it deserves, the psychological effect and influence on the electorate can never be overemphasised. The statement was calculated to cause fear and panic. Sadly, that is how the NDC and the NPP apply the imagery of chaos, violence and war, to induce fear and anxiety among the electorate to manipulate election results in their favour. I recall the “all die be die” mantra of then candidate Akufo-Addo.  Today he is President of Ghana. It worked for him. But would it work for Asiedu Nketia and his NDC in the next elections?

 

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