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22.10.2008 Politics

'Plutocrats have endangered our democracy'

By The Chronicle
'Plutocrats have endangered our democracy'

A Professor at the Department of Political Science of the University of Ghana, Legon, Professor Kwame Ninsin has warned that Ghana's democracy was under serious threat in view of the plutocratic elements evident in the country's politics over the last fifteen years.

He said if these developments persist, the country's democracy would become a regime where money rules and the people obey, saying "Multi-party politics has become an expensive business venture, which is rapidly becoming the preserve of those who have money to invest in it."

According to him, this was evident in the attitude of the political elite towards power, as a means for private ends. This, he noted, threatens the normative foundations of democratic politics, which are dialogue, tolerance and consensus.

Particularly, he alluded to events in the run up to the December elections between the two major political parties in the country, in their desperate quest for power as posing serious danger to the peace and stability of the country.

"Currently, the race towards the December 7 elections has also been characterized by the shameless display of opulence by the leaders of the various political parties. These trends suggest that Ghana's politics is increasingly becoming plutocratic in reality, and democracy only in form", he stressed.

He pointed out that where government was run by the wealthy, political organizations seized to be instruments for self-determination, with society not owning or controlling them, but rather they become instruments for elite domination.

Prof. Ninsin made these known at the opening ceremony of a three day workshop for the Africa Representatives of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) in Accra, on Monday. In view of Ghana's impending general elections in December, the annual meeting was scheduled to take place in the country to offer the participants the opportunity to deliberate on the effectiveness and appropriateness of the organization's activities in the field of political party support.

He further lamented that those who own political parties could buy the will of the people and their vote to show the world that the people have consented that they govern, though in reality, this was purely a symbolic act.

He said beyond the ritual quadrennial vote, the citizens did not have a say in their governance because they forfeit their political right to demand good governance to the wealthy political elite. "The political elite have reduced politics to a battle for power in which victory for one is the death of the other, entailing a grievous loss", he added.

This attitude, he indicated had been developing over the years and becoming worse with time, as political contestation had become increasingly aggressive, acrimonious and often violent. This was also evident in the legislative process where major political parties have remained partisan and often hostile to each other in a desperate effort to discredit one another and reduce their respective political fortunes among the electorate.

He went on to describe Ghana's enthusiasm for democratic politics as superficial because it only concealed severe threats to democratic culture and practice.

He said, though the Ghanaian electorate complement their elite in demonstrating their passion for multi-party politics and have enthusiastically turned out to vote at elections over the years, "on the surface, these robust trends are indications of democratic deepening. The reality is, however, different."

According to him, Ghana's democracy was still struggling to achieve institutional stability, while the political leaders had not yet learnt to agree on the important idea that democracy is government by the people and for the people.

This, he said was in the sense that they compete for the mandate of the citizens, not to use the power to serve and promote the welfare of those who voted them into power, saying "the political developments in the period leading to the December elections underscored these two propositions.”

He continued that there were overwhelming signs indicating unparalleled flowering of democratic culture, particularly of the civil rights of citizens, concerns about administration of justice, conduct of the police in handling cases involving groups and individuals in conflict, and in investigating criminal cases.

He further explained that while there was expansion of media freedom, and freedom of expression was a particularly striking tribute to the growth of democratic culture, this was, however, mainly in quantity rather than quality.

He added that there was growing concern about the growth and expansion of poverty in the country, particularly of rural areas which were in a state of economic and social decline, forcing them to take refuge in the towns and cities as informal traders and workers in a variety of occupations. This, he pointed out was further accelerating the decline in urban living conditions.

Another factor was the school enrolment at the lower primary level as a result of the School Feeding Programme and Capitation Grant. In his words, "again, the evidence is that the country has set up an education factory that is turning out thousands of educated illiterates annually".

The result is that twelve years of pre-tertiary education would produce young men and women who have only prepared for the ranks of the poor in the cities, towns and villages, he averred. "These are the attributes of the people who constitute the raw material for our democratic politics", he lamented.

He stated that these people followed political parties out of the instinct of economic survival rather than commitment, and were thus easily incited to violence, thereby putting Ghana's democracy at risk.

The Deputy Head of the Organization's Department of International Cooperation, Mr. Frank Spengler noted that there seem to be the misconception that political parties must act like clans and promote ethnic needs instead of national needs. This, he pointed out led to the situation of 'winner takes all' and therefore, depending on the party in power, other ethnic groups could not benefit much from the national cake. As such, people expected jobs, protection of economic interests and security in this context, and a change was necessary for democracy to flourish.

He further pointed out the need for the traditional structures of governance to be incorporated into that of the modern system to improve development and democracy. He said there should be political consensus outside of parliament, in that, the situation in which there were many parliamentarians in the executive needed to be revisited and the role of the media, civil society and issues of rule of ,law, discussed thoroughly as' elements of democracy.

Source: The Chronicle