We Must Protect Our Democracy (1)
The 2020 general elections, their outcome, and overall conduct of political players in Ghana call for sober reflection on what democracy and democratisation mean and the debate on the way forward.
According to American political scientist Larry Diamond, democracy consists of four key elements: a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; and protection of the human rights of all citizens.
The nature of democracy is that elected officials are accountable to the people, and they must return to the voters at arranged intervals to seek their mandate to continue in office. For that reason, most democratic constitutions provide that elections are held at fixed regular intervals.
The word democracy comes from two Greek words – 'demos' (people) and 'kratos' (rule). Therefore, the word means 'rule by the people', sometimes called 'popular sovereignty', and can refer to direct, participatory and representative forms of rule by the people.
Democracy is also rule of law; accountability; freedoms of association, assembly, opinion and expression; equality; and responsiveness. This supposes that even those who make the laws are subject to the same laws they make. In other words, no one is above the law.
Today, democracy has assumed such a positive meaning globally that even the most dictatorial systems try to connect themselves with this positive image.
Unfortunately, and in the words of Macdonald Chipenzi – the Director, Foundation for Democratic Process: “What we see in Africa now is a crisis in democracy: self-interested and unresponsive governments that have betrayed the aspirations of African democracy's initiators.”
Currently, Uganda epitomises the crisis of democracy – with Yoweri Museveni holding on to power after 35 years, having breached the two-term tenure several times.
This crisis of democracy nearly engulfed Ghana, if what we witnessed during the recent election of the Speaker of Eighth Parliament of the Fourth Republic is to be taken seriously. Despite some inherent weaknesses, democracy has evolved over the years from pluralism to participatory to representative, founded on the rule of law.
The Rule Of Law
In simple terms, in a democracy, an elected representative participates in making laws but is still bound by the law. Once passed, the law is supreme – not those who made the law. Representatives can participate in changing a law, but until it is changed, everyone must obey it. Before that, monarchs claimed that they had been appointed by God to rule (the divine right of kings) and were therefore, above the law. The principle involved is that a society should be able to bind itself by the rules it collectively has chosen, and no individual or institution should be outside the rules so chosen.
The Electoral System
There can be no sustainable democracy without a credible electoral system. In other words, the means of choosing representatives is central to making democracy work. For this reason, governments have invested human and financial resources in improving the electoral system.
As we may have witnessed in the 2008 and 2012 elections, inherent weaknesses in electoral procedures significantly determined the outcome of an election.
The normal rule of elections is that the side with most votes wins; but it is always important to remember that this does not mean those with the most votes are right: it just means that because more people voted for Party A rather than Party B, A must be accepted until the next election gives people a chance to change to B if they so wish. Majority rule tends to assume that any issue has only two sides.
However, we must be reminded that presidential elections are not a relay race wherein parties pass on the baton. The electorates decide, and we must accept the will of the people. Simply put, a political party may win more parliamentary seats in each election but could lose the presidential election if the electorates decide to vote in a different direction from the parliamentary vote.
Thus, the initial assumption by one party that they won majority seats in Parliament and naturally won the presidential election was flawed. The presidential and parliamentary elections are two separate elections, and must always be presented as such.
Political candour is fundamental to the success of democracy. From the beginning of the electoral reforms ahead of the 2020 elections, opposition leaders had derided every attempt to promote transparent and fair elections.
The opposition candidate, John Dramani Mahama, had stated that unless the election went his way, it would be deemed as flawed. This agenda seeped into the psyche of opposition supporters.
As was predicted, the presidential election result was rejected by John Dramani Mahama based on preconceived notions of a 'flawed election'. Initially, the impression had been created that candidate John Dramani Mahama won the election even though Mrs. Jean Mensa, the Electoral Commissioner, announced Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the ruling New Patriotic Party as the winner.
The basis for rejection was that Mrs. Mensa wrongly announced the 'total votes cast', rather than the total 'valid' votes cast. Though she corrected the anomaly a day after the election, the opposition remained adamant.
In response, the National Democratic Congress called their supporters onto the streets: and they responded by barricading roads, vandalising billboards, littering the streets and burning lorry tyres.
Subsequently, the opposition leadership downgraded their demand to be declared winner of the presidential elections to calling for a re-run of polls between their candidate and the President-elect. This revised position forms the core of the election petition at the Supreme Court.
According to the 1992 Constitution, the first option for seeking redress in election-related disputes is the court. Many well-meaning Ghanaians will be wondering why the opposition party resorted to violence before seeking redress at the courts.
By Safo Amos
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