A year ago, the Supreme Court of Ghana made a determination on the validity of the election of the President of Ghana at the 2020 polls. It was the second landmark case, with regard to Presidential elections, to be resolved by the apex court of Ghana. The prolonged nature of the 2013 election petition called for the setting of timelines for the expedition of a Presidential trial.
The two cases present an opportunity to assess the causes of the Presidential election petitions in the country, in order to put a check on the recurrence of such petitions. While Presidential election petitions maybe inevitable, they can be avoided if political parties and the Electoral Commission of Ghana adopt standard and global practices in the conduct of elections.
The 2013 Presidential election petition was purely occasioned by the faults committed by the delegated officials of the Commission. The Court affirmed there were actual breaches of some electoral laws, as given in the judgment of the law lords who ordered for a re-run of the election in the affected areas. The Court accordingly made some orders to the Commission to upgrade the calibre of personnel it uses for the conduct of its elections. The 2020 elections did not experience such fundamental errors like those committed in the 2012 elections.
So, what called for the 2021 election petition, as the conduct of the elections did not witness faulty administrative data. At least, the opposition party could not pinpoint any at the Supreme Court. It was personal choice, based on the intentions of the Presidential candidate of the main opposition party, to petition the apex court in the second case. He publicly voiced his intentions to reject the results of the polls if the register of voters was changed by the Commission. He equally remarked it was fair he petitioned the Supreme Court as the President did in 2013.
The former Presidential candidate of the main opposition party, in an address to the nation and party faithfuls, pronounced that “I want, perhaps, the same thing that my opponent wanted when in 2012 he challenged the results of that election; I want the removal of doubt. I want for all of us to know that our elections should be free, fair, and safe – and that we do not have to settle for a process that leaves us confused, and with more questions than answers”.
The 2021 Presidential election petition did remove any doubts on the minds of Ghanaians as the petitioner failed to present verifiable, truthful and consistent statistical data as proof of the case he presented to the court. There are still doubts as the court could not weigh the evidence the petitioner relied on for his case and that of the Commission.
The Electoral Commission might have contributed to the latter Presidential election petition: the declaration of collated results, and the correction of same thereafter suggested there was something specious. The filing of the 2021 Presidential election petition was appropriate based on this happening alone. The Presidential candidate of the main opposition party was compelled by such an occurrence to validate the legitimacy of the declaration of the Electoral Commission of Ghana.
Regrettably, the Petitioner failed to prove their case in the Supreme court of Ghana. There was no truthful evidence presented to challenge the validity of the election of President Akufo-Addo. Any Presidential election petition must accompany with it valuable evidence, that indicate inconsistencies and reduces the number of valid votes cast for the person declared as President-elect at the polls.
Consequently, the results collated at each polling station must present reliable evidence and statistical data to challenge the validity of the numbers declared by the Commission at the end of the polls. The validity of Presidential elections can only be challenged with accurate data, verifiable numbers as well as proof of violations of the electoral laws of Ghana, and not narratives about a seemingly poor conduct of the elections.
Presidential candidates and their parties need to train persons with integrity to represent them at all levels in the conduct of any Presidential elections. Such delegated officials will present flawless data, and consistent pieces of information for election petitions. Political candidates and their parties should be able to verify the weight of the evidence and the pieces of information that will be communicated to them before heading to the Supreme court for a determination on the validity of the elections. The 2013 case tested the perfection of the electoral system: the 2021 case was an apology of a Presidential election petition due to its weakness to present any truthful evidence to contest the declaration of the Commission. Polling stations electoral data and statistics serve as irrefutable facts to buttress any case at the court.
The Electoral Commission must endeavour to employ highly candid officials whose conducts do not occasion faulty administrative errors to warrant misgivings concerning the final results to be declared. The administrative work of the officials of the Commission affects the decision to file or not to file a Presidential election petition.
The 2013 Presidential election petition, while other factors contributed to it, was a consequence of the defective administrative performance of the officials of the Commission. The 2021 election petition, though anticipated based on the public declarations of the Petitioner (the Presidential Candidate of the main opposition party), was triggered by the errors made by the chairperson of the Commission in declaring the final results collated. The Commission must have an internally-built mechanism for verifying collated results before public declarations. It will block any opportunity to contest the results at the court.
The Supreme court must make Article 64(1) restrictive to limit the filing of cases. The provisions of the said Article are not prohibitive such that election petition cases that meet the requirements of Article 63(3) are the only ones to be filed. The court may deter Presidential candidates from filing trifling cases, as seen in 2021, if clear rules are set on the nature of cases to be filed.
The Supreme court must put rigid measures in place to limit the appetite of Presidential candidates for election petitions in Ghana. The court should indicate the necessity to fulfil the requirements of Article 63(3), and the nature of a case that meets the provisions of the said article.
It is time to take a lead role in avoiding predictable Presidential election petitions in Africa, by setting superior standards that determine the roles to be played by three key institutions in the conduct of elections namely; the Supreme court, the Electoral Commission and the political parties. There is the need to insure against the occurrence of Presidential election petitions in Ghana by reorganizing the orientations of institutions that matter in elections as election petitions can be avoided.
Emmanuel Kwabena Wucharey
Economics Tutor, Advocate and Religion Enthusiast.