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July 1, 2009 | Feature Article

OMOV Means “Obiara Nto Bi.”

One Member, One Vote (OMOV) seems to be simultaneously appealing and appalling. It is appealing to those who believe that the only way to make a political party a public property rather than the plaything of the few and privileged is to give the franchise to vote in both primaries and general elections to ALL party members in good standing. It is appalling to those who are scared by images of voters from the opposing party who would infiltrate the system and choose the weakest candidate for the party. It is also appalling to those who see huge costs associated with OMOV. It is appealing to all party members who believe that for far too long they have been ignored, weak candidates have been imposed on them and others have bribed their way into candidacy. For them the time has come to shout from the rooftops and streets:

“Obiara Nto Bi!”
“Mokome Oshiki Ekome!”
“Kowa Ya Saanashi!"
“Miokata Mida Kor!”
“OMOV Now!”

These cries for inclusion echo “Independence Now!” of the 1950s and should be considered with all the seriousness of that era. “OMOV Now!” is a call on all Ghana's political parties to make the delegate system for electing their parliamentary, presidential and national leaders a thing of the past. The party that heeds this call and manages to implement OMOV heeding the cry of “Obiara Nto Bi!” will win the 2012 elections. The party that kicks against the cry of its prospective voters and stubbornly chooses to defend the past will lose. As populations get younger, attractions to the past lose to desires for voices to be heard, needs met and meaning in life. Tradition must be conveyed in dynamic messages that address the needs of today and do not convey continued dominance of the few over the many. History is a good lesson if it is extracted to motivate and energize to improve today's life. For its own sake, it is of little value in the race to win an election. The populist will beat the historian each time because while the historian may be scholarly and reflective, the populist is seen, especially by a younger electorate as being in touch. Judge the populist all you want but the political mantra is to win now and deliver later. Holding on tightly to tradition and refusing change is akin to fastening your cloth in a strong wind- the momentum is simply against you.

Consider this example: There is a major party in Ghana that recently lost its hold on Ghana's parliament and presidency by a slim margin. The party's presidential candidate received 4,480,446 (49.77%) votes against the winner's total votes of 4,521,032 (50.23%) in the December 2008 run-off. This party held its primary for its presidential candidate in December 2007 and some 2,300 individuals cast the votes. With the knowledge that about half of the eligible voters of nine million voted for this party that lost, now imagine that it boldly embraces OMOV and begins an aggressive campaign to build its data base with a goal of registering at least two million prospective voters as dues-paying members by December 2011. Would that not be the best indication of success? Would two million not be a much better gauge of success than 2,300 or even 300,000? Now what if the success rate is increased to three million- and four million? Think about the many benefits of having this rich data- you can precisely predict your strong areas and places where you need more work. If everyone votes in Ghana's general elections, why can't everyone vote in its parliamentary and presidential primaries?

One efficient way to solve problems is to combine them. Ghana's Electoral Commission is considering the introduction of biometric voter identification cards which would reduce the incidence of voter fraud. Presumably the new card that will capture basic biographic data and the person's images will be checked against a master system during elections. Could this same new card not be designed to also include a person's party affiliation? That information could be captured at registration and people can choose to register as independents, if they choose. The next step would be for the EC to supervise a Primary Voting Day where all parties hold their various primaries on the same scheduled day. Ghana is a manageable country and this is not impossible to accomplish. The advantage of this system is that the fear of infiltration would disappear because everyone would be recorded as having voted once in the new improved system. Party members would be more focused on electing their own preferences within their party than causing mischief for others on the Primary Voting Day. The cost does not go away but it becomes the responsibility of the State. Democracy is not cheap. This should replace the government's consideration of financing the political parties.

If the political parties would rather mine the OMOV system for raising funds, then they have to develop their membership data base and issue their own biometric cards. The dues collected should more than offset the cost of the primary election. There is a major party in Ghana which actually has the following requirement in its constitution:

“In Polling Station Executive elections all card-bearing and paid up members in good standing in the polling areas shall vote.”

This language was approved at the party's National Delegates Conference on August 29 1998, but this major party that recently lost its elections has never implemented this provision and is still sidestepping it. The question is: If everyone votes at a polling station, then why limit the election only to Polling Station executives? Why not include the national officers, parliamentary and presidential candidates in the party's own Primary Day? We should emphasize that a member in good standing should not be limited to only Ghanaians Living in Ghana but also to Ghanaians Living Abroad (GLAs) as well. The on-going detrimental effect of reduced remittances on Ghana's economy should wake our country up to take the inclusion and cultivation of GLAs much more purposefully than we have exhibited as a nation. The implementation of ROPAA (Representation of the People's Amendment Act) equally translates into “Obiara Nto Bi”-Let each one (qualified, of course) vote.

Space and time do not permit me to answer more questions but if the collective goal is right, then we can find answers to each question and return the political parties to their owners- the electorate, deepen democracy and be universally inclusive. Anything short and we are not running modern political parties but privileged clubs with contrivances for manipulation and corruption. Until then, the cry continues:

“Obiara Nto Bi!”
“Mokome Oshiki Ekome!”
“Kowa Ya Saanashi!"
“Miokata Mida Kor!”
“OMOV Now!”

Please send your comments to [email protected]

There is a non-partisan group being formed that will look at issues that affect the interest of Ghanaians, especially GLAs, versus those of a political party. Send a note if you are interested.

Kofi A. Boateng
Kofi A. Boateng

The author has authored 16 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author's column: KofiABoateng

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Kofi A. Boateng and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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