Since Ghana returned to constitutional democracy in 1992, the country has benefited from eight (8) successful elections and alternated power between the two dominant parties, however, all the elections conducted so far has been marred by reported cases of violence in some parts of the country. One can recount some of these election-related violence such as happened in Ayawaso West Wuogon by-elecitons, Atiwa by-elections, Kyereponi by-elections, Talensi by-elections, violence in Akwatia elections and more recently Tachiman South elections in 2020, etc. Even though elections are the only means to enhance our democracy, it is however threatened by election-related violence threatening the peace and security of the country.
In the literature, electoral disputes is said to exit “where one or more electoral actors deny validation of the election process, or put under question results or their consequences”, It must be noted that greater transparency, accountability and verifiability in the conduct of election is fundamental to sustaining a democracy in that, it is possible for stakeholders to ascertain the authenticity of the output of the electoral system, should there be any dispute arising out of the process.
Politics is sometimes seen as conflict and cooperation- requiring that groups compete for political power and authority and the control of scarce resources. This is achieved through conducting legitimate elections. In the process, some people use the arena to control or exploit others. It is observed that democracy in Ghana, instead of serving two main objectives which are: representation and conflict resolution where it is supposed to make governments responsible by providing alternative to violent conflict, through a means of determining who to rule in the state, the processes bring to the fore the very conflict it is supposed to resolve in the country, itself leading to conflict. Probably due to the political elite’s general orientation to politics that revolve around the zero-sum game- winner takes all principle, people are likely to resort to whatever means available including violence to capture political power.
Elections sometimes create opportunity for political entrepreneurs to advance their careers through extreme appeals to mobilize their ideological, ethnic or religious groups which has the tendency of increasing violent conflict in the society. Sometimes such appeals are done through speeches and statements to party followers for example ‘all die be die’ by then NPP candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo; ‘do or die’ by Ex-President John Mahama from the NDC. These speech acts present an appeal to party followers to employ all means possible to secure power even at the peril of their lives therefore, making the election to precipitate violence.
The consequences of election-related violent conflict are: threat to democracy, peace, stability and sustainable human development in the country. Elections must be noted as nothing but power politics and in the exercise of political power disputes do occur. What is required of us is to manage the disputes such that they do not degenerate into violent confrontations.
It is obvious that election related violence emanates from first, deficiencies in the electoral process and second, social, political and economic cleavages or tensions in the state. When these occurs, election disputes are expressed through: apathy, writing of petitions, complaints through press conferences, peaceful protests, boycott, litigation, violent protests. As a state, we have gone through all these instances since the 2020 general elections. This therefore require the attention of analysts, development partners, civil society groups and the general public to begin the processes that will lead to a peaceful resolution of the disputes so that it will not affect the next elections in 2024.
To ensure there are no violence in our elections, there is the need to build trust in the electoral process. Trust comes through a combination of mechanisms and procedures used to record and tally votes, and the confidence in election officials’ competence and honesty of the election management body. More importantly, the election management body must ensure to demonstrate impartiality, independence, transparency, efficiency, service and professionalism as a guiding principle in the conduct of their functions. Failure to do so makes it idle for people to manipulate the system for their political gains which may lead to violence.
In conclusion, we must agree that the only way to stop violence in our elections is to ensure that those who use it will gain no advantage from it (or at least to create a reasonable expectation that they won’t) and that they may well experience a setback for doing so. We need to know that the stakes in elections are high and successful contestants will use all means possible to win. Again, there is the need for objectivity and impartiality in dispute resolution mechanisms as an important element in building public confidence in democratic institutions and the election process. Finally, any dispute arising out of election results must be resolved fairly, effectively and in timely manner in order to eliminate suspicion, mistrust and violence in order to safeguard the peace and security of the country at all times.
By: Emmanuel F. Mantey
Bureau of African Conflict &Security Management