Ghana was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa and in Commonwealth Africa to achieve independence. That was in 1957.
The British colonial government first exercised legislative power in Ghana (then called the Gold Coast) between 1850 and 1957.
The Legislative Council advised the colonial governor in enacting laws and drawing up the budget for the Gold Coast colony.
The governor, however, retained all legislative and executive powers. The Legislative Council was purely an advisory body and the governor was not bound to follow the council’s advice, even if reached unanimously. Members of the Legislative Council were not elected but nominated by the governor.
From 1866 to 1874, the Gold Coast was reunited with West African settlements. In 1884 the Gold Coast was again given a separate government with limited powers.
In 1888 the first African unofficial member, John Mensah Sarbah, was nominated to the Legislative Council.
In 1916, the Legislative Council was reconstituted to include nine nominated ‘unofficials’, six of whom were Africans, against eleven officials and the governor.
The first Legislative elections took place under the 1925 Guggisberg Constitution. Under that constitution, six of the 14 unofficial members were elected by the Provincial Council of Chiefs, rate payers of Accra; Cape Coast and Sekondi also elected three members and five were nominated European officials.
The government was enlarged for the first time in the British colony to include 15 officials and the governor who had to vote in accordance with government policy.
The government could force through the council any measure by its majority. Initiative rested with the governor.
The significance of the Guggisberg Constitution is that it introduced the elective principle for the first time in the Gold Coast.
The 1946 Burns Constitution replaced the Guggisberg Constitution.
The Burns Constitution increased the number of elected representatives who formed majority in the Legislative Council. The governor ceased to be the ex-official President of the council in 1949, while the first African unofficial member, Emmanuel Quist (later Sir Emmanuel), was appointed President.
The 1946 Constitution was thought to be the most advanced constitution in tropical Africa. Still, the governor retained the powers of veto. He could refuse to give his assent to any bill by the unofficial majority.
Sir Emmanuel Quist, the first unofficial African member, was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly under the 1951 Constitution.
Under the same constitution the first election involving political parties to a Legislative Assembly took place and 75 members were elected.
There were also nine appointed members, three of whom were ex-officio, with six representing mining and commercial interests.
The Convention People’s Party (CPP) won the majority of seats and Dr Kwame Nkrumah was appointed leader of government business. The CPP again won majority of seats in the 1954 and 1956 elections.
The 1954 transitional Constitution provided for an assembly of a Speaker and 104 members elected along party lines on the basis of universal adult suffrage.
On the eve of the independence day the colonial legislature held its last sitting at 11 o’clock that evening. The Prime Minister, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, made the following statement:
“Mr Speaker, we have assembled on this happy occasion to honour the new status of a nation. When the day dawns we shall have left behind us the chains of imperialism and colonialism which have hitherto bound us to Britain. By twelve o’clock midnight Ghana will have redeemed her last freedom”.
The Deputy Leader of the opposition, S. D. Dambo, associated himself with the Prime Minister’s words.
The Parliament of the Gold Coast was prorogued at 11.45 in the evening of March 5, 1957. The Prime Minister moved a motion thanking the Queen for her message to the House on attainment of Ghana’s independence.
The motion was seconded by the leader of the opposition, Prof. K. A. Busia.
National Assembly, 1957–1960
On March 6, 1957, Ghana attained full political independence. The Queen’s representative, the Duchess of Kent, opened the first session of Ghana’s Parliament.
The 1957 Independence Constitution was fashioned after the Westminster model (Prime Minister as Head of Government, with the Queen of England as Head of State).
Under the Transitional Provisions of the 1957 Order in Council (Constitution), the members and the Speaker of the National Assembly of 1956 were deemed duly elected.
The independence Parliament comprised the Queen and the National Assembly. Six parties were represented namely:
Convention People’s Party, Northern People’s Party National Liberation Movement, Togoland Congress Party Federation of Youth Organisation, Moslem Association Party and an Independent Member.
On July 1, 1960, Ghana became a Republic under the Independent Constitution of 1957 with a five-year term. The parties represented were the Convention People’s Party and the United Party.
Era of one-party state
In February 1964, the Republican Constitution was amended making the CPP the National Party. The National Assembly was therefore dissolved in 1965 making Ghana a one-party state.
In the ensuing elections, the 198 candidates were returned unopposed.
Parliamentary democracy was interrupted when the First Republican Government was overthrown in a coup d’etat on February 24, 1966.
Parliamentary democracy was restored when the ruling junta handed over power to another constitutionally elected government in 1969.
A National Assembly was constituted consisting of 140 members elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage.
Under the 1969 Constitution the prime minister and his ministers were Members of Parliament.
The Second Republican Government was also overthrown in a coup d’etat on January 13, 1972, after only 27 months in office. Since then Parliament was in abeyance until September 24, 1979 when parliamentary democracy was again restored.
Under the 1979 Constitution, the President, Vice-President and Ministers of State were not Members of Parliament.
Ghana shifted from the Westminster system of government. Parliament no longer consisted of the President and the Legislature.
In fact, the word “Parliament” for the first time referred to only the Legislature. Parliament had 140 seats and a statutory life of five years.
On December 31, 1981, parliamentary democracy was again interrupted by another coup d’etat.
Fourth Republic: Stable Parliament
The country returned to constitutional rule following the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution in April 1992 — the Fourth Republican Constitution.
The First Parliament of the Fourth Republic with 200 members and a four-year term was inaugurated on January 7, 1993. Parties represented were: National Democratic Congress, National Convention Party Eagle Party and two Independent Members. There were 16 women.
The main opposition party, the New Patriotic Party boycotted the Parliamentary election because they alleged that the presidential election held earlier was won by the NDC through irregularities.
The Fourth Republic has been stable as it has travelled 14 years, spanning three Parliaments, unlike the Parliaments of the previous republics.
Sources: The Evolution of the Parliament in Ghana by K. B. Ayensu and S. N. Darkwa
The 1968 Constitutional Proposals for the 2nd Republic Constitution