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POLITICAL DYNAMICS UNDER THE FOURTH REPUBLIC
Launching the Fourth Republic
The coming into force of the new constitution with the inauguration of the Fourth Republic and the installation of Jerry Rawlings as the first popularly elected president of Ghana on January 7, 1993, opened a new chapter in Ghana. In spite of the heat of partisan politics, the country’s political climate remained encouragingly peaceful on the whole. There were clear indications that both the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and opposition parties and groups as well as the general public were committed to making constitutional democracy work.
The new government faced several challenges in early 1993. One of the most serious, of course, was the problem of persistent and widespread economic hardship. Another was the institutionalization of democratic practice and constitutionalism in a de facto singleparty parliament that resulted from the opposition boycott of parliamentary elections. In boycotting the elections, the main opposition parties, who together received about 40 percent of the total vote in the presidential election, denied themselves not only potential cabinet appointments but also any direct representation in parliament and any opportunity for real power-sharing.
This was regrettable, because throughout Ghana’s postindependence history, the legislature has been the weakest of the three branches of government. Without sitting in parliament, the opposition could hardly constitute an effective shadow cabinet or function as a credible government-in-waiting. The creation of a new voters’ register and a national individual identification system as called for by the opposition, the need for which Rawlings publicly acknowledged, would also help build a more effective and durable multiparty democracy. A step in this direction came in early 1994 when the National Electoral Commission, created in 1993, set up the Inter-Party Advisory Committee to advise it on electoral issues. This gesture has helped dispel the opposition’s view that the electoral commission is a pro-government body.
Since the 1992 elections, the opposition parties, notably the NPP led by Adu Boahen, have sought to prove their commitment to constitutionalism by organizing public rallies, peaceful demonstrations, and press conferences. They have been aided by the emergence of a vigorous private press and by state-controlled media that have sought to report the views of opposition groups. The opposition also has chosen to go to court against alleged breaches of the constitution rather than to resort to confrontation and violence. Indeed, the NPP has urged its supporters to familiarize themselves with their constitutional rights, to criticize the government when it is wrong, and, whenever necessary, to resort to the courts and not to violence.
Such tactics on the part of the opposition are consistent with the principal concerns raised by Rawlings at the inauguration of the Fourth Republic. In his presidential address, Rawlings called for consultation and cooperation with all political groups in the country. He said that the NDC government would continue to reach out to the opposition parties that had boycotted the elections because it was the government’s aim to establish a culture of tolerance, consultation, and consensus-building based on mutual respect.
In his address, Rawlings also indicated the basic orientation of his government. He emphasized that the condition of the national economy “must be the foundation of Ghana’s democratic aspirations and remained the government’s greatest challenge.” He noted that his government was determined to continue the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) and that the new constitutional order could not be divorced from the changes brought about by the 31st December 1981 Revolution. In addition, he remarked that he bore no personal grudge against any person or any group (having in mind the pre- and postpresidential election disturbances and violence) and invited others to adopt the same attitude.
Rawlings assured the armed forces that they would remain actively involved in all national endeavors and also indicated that Ghana’s role in world affairs would not change. The continuity in domestic, economic, and foreign policy that Rawlings stressed is reflected in the government’s ministerial and other appointments. For example, at the end of May 1993, twenty-one of thirty-five ministers had been secretaries under the former PNDC government; many of them held the same portfolios that they had previously held.
Despite some positive steps toward national reconciliation, part of the opposition continued to be distrustful of the new administration. In the view of these critics, the PNDC was still in power, and, accordingly, they referred to the new administration as “P/NDC” or “(P)NDC.” Some members of the opposition also saw the new parliament as merely a rubber-stamp of the ruling NDC administration. The reappointment of numerous PNDC secretaries to the new NDC administration as well as the NDC pledge of continuity in economic and social policy confirmed the worst fears of the opposition. The same could be said of a presidential order in January 1993 to the effect that persons who had been in office as PNDC secretaries for ministries, regions, or districts should continue in their offices to avoid the breakdown of the machinery of government. As the opposition was quick to point out, the presidential order technically violated the constitution; however, given the extenuating circumstances created by the postponement of the parliamentary elections, the order was probably unavoidable.
Developing Democratic Institutions
The growing importance of the legislative arm of the government in national affairs was reflected in several developments. At the state opening of parliament on April 29, 1993, President Rawlings gave an address in which he emphasized that the contributions of all citizens were necessary in order to achieve the national goals of economic development and social justice. He reminded Ghanaians that the proper forum for political debate under constitutional rule was parliament and called upon the leaders of the parties making up his ruling Progressive Alliance (the NDC, the National Convention Party (NCP), and the Every Ghanaian Living Everywhere (EGLE) Party) to welcome serious dialogue with the opposition outside parliament. Such a move would enable the opposition parties that had boycotted the parliamentary elections to contribute to national political debate. The NPP made its views on national policy heard through invited participation in parliamentary committees, thus attempting to influence debates and particular legislation.
The executive and the legislative branches worked to ensure passage of nine measures that would establish certain major state institutions by the July 7, 1993, deadline stipulated in the constitution. The institutions created were the National Commission on Civic Education, the National Electoral Commission, the District Assemblies Common Fund, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, the Minerals Commission, the Forestry Commission, the Fisheries Commission, the National Council for Higher Education, and the National Media Commission.
The Courts Act of July 6, 1993, incorporated the public tribunals created under the PNDC into the established court system. It defined the jurisdiction of regional tribunals and established lower courts—circuit tribunals and community tribunals—to replace the circuit courts and the district (magistrate) courts. It also established the National House of Chiefs, the regional houses of chiefs, and traditional councils, and it provided that parliament could create other tribunals as the need arose. The tribunals are empowered to try criminal and civil cases. Throughout 1993 and 1994, however, the Judicial Council of Ghana, was working to amend the Courts Act to allow the pre-existing circuit and district courts to hear cases meant for circuit and community tribunals until such time as the new tribunals become fully operational. The establishment of the lower tribunals has been delayed because of lack of staff and of suitable court buildings in all 110 districts, most of which are poor and rural.
Parliament also passed the controversial Serious Fraud Office Bill. This bill established a Serious Fraud Office as a specialized agency of the state to monitor, to investigate, and on the authority of the attorney general, to prosecute fraud and serious economic crimes. According to the bill’s proponents, complex fraud and economic crimes were being committed that posed a direct threat to national security and that were possibly linked to illegal drug trafficking, none of which could be adequately investigated and prosecuted under existing law.
Critics of the bill, which included the Ghana Bar Association, saw it as an attempt on the part of the ruling NDC to destroy the NPP, which considered itself the party of business. They also viewed it as containing provisions conflicting directly with constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights to liberty and property. Under the bill’s provisions, anyone can be investigated for fraud except the president, in whose case the constitution provides elaborate procedures for impeachment in case of abuse of power and trust.
Parliament’s success can be attributed to the leaders of the opposition and the ruling Progressive Alliance, who chose to settle their differences through dialogue and constitutional means rather than through confrontation. The same tendency to operate within the framework of the new constitution applies to the judicial realm as well, where the opposition, especially the NPP, declared itself the principal watchdog and custodian of civil liberties and of the 1992 constitution. This task is consistent with the leading role played by the opposition in the demand for a return to constitutional rule during the PNDC era.
On July 22, 1993, a week after celebrating its first anniversary, the NPP won three major and surprising victories in the Supreme Court. The court, which the opposition believed to be under the control of the executive, upheld two suits filed by the party that sought to nullify certain existing laws and decrees that the NPP claimed conflicted with the 1992 constitution. In the first suit, the court ordered the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation to grant the NPP “fair and equal access to its facilities within two weeks” to enable the party to articulate its views on the 1993 budget in the same manner as the ruling NDC.
In the second judgment, the court ruled that certain sections of Public Order Decree 1972 were inconsistent with the 1992 constitution, which grants the individual the right to demonstrate or to take part in a procession without necessarily obtaining a permit from the police. The NPP had challenged as unconstitutional the arrest and subsequent prosecution of some of its members for demonstrating against the 1993 budget on February 15, 1993. On that day the Accra police had assaulted the demonstrators, severely injuring many of them. The verdict in the NPP suit also applied to the shooting attack on university students by commandos on March 22-23. The students were protesting the government’s refusal to meet their demand for an increase in student loans from 90,000 to 200,000 cedis because of a rise in the cost of living. A third suit, which concerned police powers with respect to public assemblies, did not go forward because the law had been repealed.
Two months later, the NPP scored another victory in the Supreme Court when the party sought a declaration to stop the election of district chief executives (DCEs) ahead of anticipated District Assembly elections. The NPP noted that election of DCEs by sitting district assemblies that had only a few months’ remaining tenure in office would infringe the letter and the intent of the constitution, which requires that newly elected assemblies, not outgoing assemblies, elect DCEs. The court granted the NPP’s application for an interim injunction and ordered the suspension of DCE elections until the court could examine the constitutionality of the elections process. Candidates for election as DCEs had been nominated by President Rawlings. Within a few days, an announcement was made that Rawlings had only appointed acting district secretaries, not DCEs, for all 110 district assemblies; the president’s appointees, however, appeared to be mostly the same individuals nominated as DCEs. The opposition then took this matter to the Supreme Court on a charge of unconstitutionality, but the court upheld Rawlings’s action in May 1994.
To crown the constitutional victories of the NPP, the Supreme Court ruled at the end of 1993 that December 31, marking the 31st December 1981 Revolution, should no longer be celebrated as a public holiday. The NPP had been particularly outraged when newly elected President Rawlings declared that any interpretation of the 1992 constitution would be subject to the spirit of the June 4, 1979, uprising and the 31st December 1981 Revolution. For the opposition, these events had ushered in the most repressive and bloody decade in the country’s postcolonial history, and they had no place in the new democratic constitutional order.
The NPP, after documenting alleged irregularities of the November 1992 presidential elections, consolidated its position as the main opposition party in the country. It presented itself as the “constitutional” party, the objectives of which are to ensure that constitutional rule is established in Ghana and that the private sector becomes the engine of growth and development. Furthermore, at a widely reported press conference in July 1993 marking the first anniversary of the NPP, the party’s chairman proclaimed his party’s readiness to “do business” with the NDC government.
Doing business with the government did not mean, as many NPP members had feared, that some members of the NPP executive would take posts in the NDC administration. It meant talking face-to-face with the presidency, the legislature, and the judiciary as well as with independent institutions of state. These dealings were intended to enhance the constitutional rights of all Ghanaians and to ensure respect for human rights and proper management of the economy.
The new NPP policy—that of promoting dialogue between the NPP and the government, which began in November 1993--contributed to a reduction of political tension in the country. Unlike some of its West African neighbors that are haunted by political uncertainty and torn by war and civil strife, Ghana continued to enjoy relative peace and political stability. This was true despite the flare-up of interethnic violence and killing in the northern region between the Konkomba and the Nanumba in early 1994, leading to the declaration of a brief state of emergency in the region.
The minor opposition parties of the Nkrumahist tradition, which had boycotted dialogue with the NDC government, also managed after a long period of internal bickering to put their houses in order in anticipation of the 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections. The parties subscribing to the ideals of Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party, with the exception of the People’s National Convention led by former president Limann, united to form the new People’s Convention Party, receiving a certificate of registration in January 1994.
One of the major concerns of the NPP and other opposition parties was the existence in the Fourth Republic of paramilitary groups and revolutionary organs, such as CDRs, which had not been disbanded. In August 1993 all CDRs were put into a new organization known as the Association of Committees for the Defence of the Revolution. This new association was to continue mobilizing the populace for community development and local initiatives within the framework of the 1992 Constitution.
The NPP persisted in its demands for a new voters’ register and for national identity cards to ensure free and fair elections in 1996. When President Rawlings suggested that it was cheaper to revise the voters’ register than to issue national identity cards, the cost of which would be prohibitive for the government, the NPP threatened to boycott the 1996 elections unless both electoral demands were met. The potential boycott was seemingly averted in February 1994 when the United States pledged to fund the printing of identity cards for voters in the 1996 elections.
The following August the chairman of the National Electoral Commission promised that the commission would take appropriate steps to ensure that the presidential and parliamentary elections in 1996 would be free and fair. These steps were to include the training of some 80,000 party agents as observers. The National Electoral Commission later indicated that identification cards would be issued to voters during registration for a new and revised electoral roll in September 1995. The Commission also favored holding the elections on the same day and felt that Ghanaians living abroad should have the right to vote. Eventually the NDC government promised to ensure that the 1996 elections would be free and fair and that international observers would be allowed.
Meanwhile, on March 22, 1994, the first nonpartisan district level elections to be conducted under the Fourth Republic were successfully held in all but thirteen districts, mostly in the north, where polling was postponed because of interethnic conflicts. About 10,880 candidates, 383 of them women, competed for 4,282 seats in 97 district, municipal, and metropolitan assemblies. The new district assemblies were inaugurated in June 1994, marking another step in the establishment of a democratic system of local government.
By mid-1994, there was general agreement that the government’s human rights record had improved considerably. The improvement resulted in part from the activities of the many human rights groups being established in the country. The Ghana Committee on Human and People’s Rights, founded by a group of dedicated lawyers, trade unionists, and journalists and inaugurated in January 1991, was perhaps the most prominent of these. Another was the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, a government body established in 1993 designed to deal with human rights issues and violations.