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20.03.2008 Feature Article

POLITICAL PETTINESS IN A SEASON OF HOPE

POLITICAL PETTINESS IN A SEASON OF HOPE
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Even though I had decided to go into a self-imposed exile with regards to my regular contribution to our national political discourse, recent developments in the country have compelled me to end this hiatus.

The timing of the inauguration of our fourth republic has been a mixed blessing for the country to the extent that it has largely synchronized the Ghanaian and American political calendars. However, at the same time, given the magnitude of the American campaign process and the amount of interest it generates around the world, it has always overshadowed our own politics with regards to the issues that individuals and the political groupings they represent raise in their quest for power.

Ghana's tremendous strides

Yet, politics is a science albeit a soft one, so regardless of where and when it takes place, we can always replicate the issues without much regard to the context. Having had the privilege of observing the American campaign process in the past one and half years, it is very hard indeed to resist the temptation to contrast this process with what is happening in Ghana now as far as the relevance of the issues is concerned, especially, from the side of the opposition.

Even though as a nation we are still in the political wilderness finding our way to the Promised Land of a full-fledged democracy, Ghana has made tremendous strides in this direction compared to most of our peers on the continent.

Issues

Democracy is a multi-dimensional concept as the respected Harvard sociologist, Daniel Bell, has observed. In short, democracy is a trilogy of the free market, political liberalism and cultural diversity. Thus, given the modest, yet meaningful progress the country has made in these three domains in the last 8 years, one would have expected the issues in the current campaign to be forward looking and at the very least be consistent with this inexorable national effort to deepen our nascent democracy.

However, ironically, judging from the pronouncements by certain individuals and political groupings so far the inevitable conclusion seems to be that many of our political elite are caught in a time warp regarding the issues that are of prime concern to the electorate.

Beating of war drums

There have been countless number of issues and accompanying pronouncements so far but let us for now focus on the premature beating of war drums by certain individuals from the country's official opposition. Bereft of ideas that can translate into realistic manifestoes with which they can convince the electorate to vote for them in a free and fair electoral environment, these individuals on the campaign trail have resorted to fear mongering by making pronouncements to the effect that there will be mayhem should a particular party win the 2008 elections.

The premise of such reckless statements is that the ruling party stole the 2004 presidential elections through projecting the outcome of the elections, a time-honored statistical practice. The dangerous assumption they make from this is that this behavior will be repeated in this year's elections. While it is not the intention of this article to question the accuracy of this information or delve into the logic by the 'war lords”, it is important, in the supreme interest of our dear country, to pay attention to the reality of the danger that lurks behind electoral fraud.

Electoral system

This call for attention to our electoral system is all the more important given the fact that flawed elections are a global phenomenon regardless of the level of a country's socioeconomic development, a fact which was forcibly brought home during the 2000 U.S. Presidential Elections in the state of Florida.

It is trite knowledge that Africa has had its fair share of this cancer, and despite noteworthy electoral reforms, we are still on a learning curve. In fact, the recent events in Kenya have vividly demonstrated how electoral systems could prove to be lethal if they went awry.

Worldwide elections always provide a lot of effervescence or general excitement. Nevertheless, it is important that some key aspects of elections be well understood to serve as a check on often unrestrained, mindless and provocative language that has become a hall-mark of electioneering campaign in our country in recent times.

The fact is that the electoral machinery is very complex since it involves a governing body, i.e. the Electoral Commission, its permanent decentralized staff and the thousands of temporary officers or staffers. As human institutions, electoral administrations are often beset by both natural and man-made problems. Natural problems or “acts of God” such as lightening, thunder, floods, inclement weather etc, are by nature and definition outside the purview of human ingenuity and power.

This overriding “force” is duly recognized by the law, which also factors it into legal principles and thus provide concrete grounds for the inclusion of liability or restrictive clauses in contractual relations. Thus it is said that although a fraud in an election constitutes an irregularity not all irregularities in an election are fraudulent.

It is against this backdrop that all over the world election observers always use a common standard in their reportage and assessment of the regularity or transparency of elections, hence the use of expressions such as “though there were a few worrisome instances, the election was generally fair”.

As part of the general evolution of our society towards the desired state of economic and political freedom for the greatest numbers of our people, the jury is certainly still out on the sophistication of our electoral system.

Nevertheless, judging by the successful elections the country has held so far under the fourth republic, the country can boast of a very respectable level of electoral sophistication that compares favorably with systems under the so-called mature democracies in the West.

The nation's proud record in the domain of electoral performance is, in fact, attested to by the numerous reports from the international community which have invariably concluded that Ghana's electoral performance has often measured up to international standards of free and fair elections. In other words, any instance of electoral irregularities has not been the type to “impact negatively on the overall outcome of our elections”. In fact, it is on the basis of this sterling performance by our Electoral Commission (EC) that the body has been charged by both the Commonwealth and the United Nations with the responsibility of organizing elections in once war-ravaged communities which seek to return to peace and democracy.

Given the complexity of the electoral process it is easy to understand why with the reckless pronouncements by its stalwarts the NDC, as it stands now, opens itself to a very serious line of questioning as to when and how they came to the conclusion that such a reputable body has become malleable to governmental pressure. Was it when she was wining or losing elections? Could this cynicism towards the EC be a tacit admission to the fact that the party has been involved in electoral irregularities since the inception of the fourth republic and she has been the beneficiaries of such malpractices? Perhaps what these critics are trying to say but have not been well articulated under the circumstances is that such manipulations have become inordinately acute as to impact massively on the outcome of the elections in recent years, hence the need to go public with it.

If that is the message now being conveyed here, then obviously and understandably, it is one that we can not wholly challenge; it is only when one has been in control of a once abused process, can one gauge or suggest how it could easily be done by another person or group. That is to say, those who manipulated the system while in government are likely to imagine how it could also be done by another party.

To put it succinctly, this is an accusation very much based on a suspicion informed by one's own experience. What Ghanaians know for a fact is that the Electoral Commission is always “deified” in the NDC bastion Constituencies such as its pet “World Bank” Ketu South Constituency but gets demonized if the same thing happens in the NPP strong-holds. And, ironically, while the NDC always garners close to a 100% of votes in its bastions, the proportion of the NPP vote in its bastions thus far is between 70 to 85 %. What this suggests is the multi-ethnic character of the party as opposed to the uni-ethnic demographic make-up of the NDC.

The NDC paranoia and bizarre behavior with regards to the electoral system goes back in time. In 1992, when the NPP cried foul about the widespread abuses observed in that election, the NDC was quick to seek solace in this ”clean bill of health” the international community gave our electoral system and held on to the conclusion that the elections were free and fair.

Consistent with the NDC double speak, at that point in time, the party commended the Electoral Commission (EC) for its victory in its “World Bank” constituencies but questioned the legitimacy and fairness of the Commission in constituencies that are not known for their “loyalty” to this failed opposition party.

Thus, the recent NDC fabrication of bloated increase in the number of registered voters in the Ashanti region is but another example of the party's quest to indict the 2008 electoral process before it even begins. Indeed, the EC deserves praise for acting quickly to correct this misinformation emanating from a party that has openly admitted that “opposition is hell”!

Personal attacks

As if the unwarranted attacks directed at our state institutions were not enough with regards to the peace and tranquility the country has enjoyed so far, this sort of fiery language has been used to attack individual politicians in the ruling party.

I am specifically speaking about flag bearer of the New Patriotic Party, Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo, who has become a target of such foul language following his election as the flag bearer of the ruling party. The fact is that Ghanaians must learn to put the country above pettiness in all its forms and, thus, celebrate merit when and wherever it is clearly manifest.

It is trite knowledge that at the height of the suffocating PNDC-led culture of silence, which saw most Ghanaians petrified into inaction, fear and low self-esteem, it took the likes of Nana Addo to embolden them vis a vis the most fascist regime in our nation's history. Needless to say, through these historic deeds, Nana Addo helped to precipitate the reforms which led to the present constitutionalism much to the admiration of these same Ghanaians who are now calling him arrogant, drug addict, and a womanizer.

But, assuming that these allegations were even well-founded; will Ghanaians now like to exchange their present freedom with the brutalities and human rights abuses of yester year as a way of exorcising Nana's contribution? As patriotic Ghanaians, I think it is worth our looking up to our leading democratic peers such as the United States in order to appreciate the worth and dignity of patriotism.

Indeed, some key architects of the United States have had some personal blemishes but did that detract from the sterling contribution they made to the country? Ex-President Clinton's escapades, culminating in the Monica Lewinsky's scandal is known to all of us but will any American, given the chance, receive former Clinton with reservations? Why is he still an iconic figure among the US citizenry, if not for the solid legacy he bequeathed to the Americans? It was no wonder then, that in 2001 at the height of this scandal, the then NDC government rolled out a red carpet treatment in his honor when he visited Ghana on his African tour.


Swedru Declaration

Without condoning moral decadence, the point I am driving home is that it is not enough for us to brandish this pharisaic self-righteousness and use that to smear a worthy personality. The reality is that Nana has all the attributes of a good politician but the fact of the matter is that the mere mention of his name sends shivers down the spine of some of his political opponents because of his steadfastness.

This explains why the NDC in particular will burn the midnight oil dabbling in worthless banter over alleged procedural impropriety surrounding Nana's election, while they have selectively become oblivious to the paralyzing picture impact that the Swedru Declaration still has on our infant democratic culture as a nation. That singular act by the Founder of the NDC denied the Party any benefit of choice-making in the determination of who succeeds him as a presidential candidate and this fact more than anything like electoral malpractices explains the Professor's two futile attempts at becoming Ghana's president.

But, characteristically, my very “Good Friend” and Minority Leader, Honourable Bagbin was at it again, when it came to putting himself up as a master class in the art of making over-reaching political statements.

His assertion that Nana Akufo-Addo cannot win any election on account of what he considered as his diminished legitimacy having failed to clinch the NPP's flag bearership at a ago is one phase in the saga of political badmouthing against Nana Addo.

Does it mean that the Honourable Bagbin too can never be a good minister if given the chance? I pose this question because for a long time under the NDC rule, the Honourable Bagbin was the Chairman of the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs when some of his junior colleagues enjoyed executive positions.

Finally, the Honourable Bagbin should understand that the decision at the party's congress to avoid a second round of voting was by consensus and to this effect Nana Addo is a legitimate candidate of the NPP.

I wish to conclude this article by enjoining all well-meaning Ghanaians, be they ordinary citizens or power seekers, to put the supreme interest of the nation above our individual and personal interests at this crucial moment in the evolution of our nascent democracy. We should at all costs try and avoid cultivating a climate for a Kenyan-type post-election conflict that will certainly set back the clock as far as our national development agenda is concerned.

The public should reject those self-seeking politicians who are known to use the unsuspecting public as cannon fodder in the achievement of their personal agendas. As for those politicians who are whipping up the public's emotions through their reckless statements, we know you and we know where you live. If you think that it would be business as usual where ordinary poor people will bear the brunt of the violence you are fostering relentlessly, you are making a big mistake. A word to the wise is enough.

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