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03.03.2004 General News

Election 2004, another litmus test for Ghana's democracy

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Accra, March 3, GNA - The most important agenda on the country's political programme for this year is arguably the organisation of the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections.

The Electoral Commission (EC) mandated by the 1992 Constitution to carry out the election is, therefore, making feverish preparations to ensure the success of the event.

The Commission says that the registration of voters and the conduct of the elections would cost the nation a total of 213 billion cedis. It also announced that it has so far received 42 billion cedis of the 113 billion cedis it required for the registration exercise.

The government has released 9.5 million dollars to the EC as part payment of the budget for the 2004 Election and donor partners; UK, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the European Union (EU) and the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), have endorsed the exercise by pledging to contribute 6.8 million dollars towards the programme.

It is hoped that the co-operation between the Government of Ghana and its development partners would ensure transparency in the application of funds, lead to credible election, deepen Ghana's democracy and set a pace for the rest of Africa.

We in Ghana should appreciate the support of the development partners and consider the election as crucial to the country's survival and progress.

Individuals, pressure groups, organisations, civil society and political parties should for this reason collectively assist the EC to ensure free and fair elections.

Once again Ghanaians would have the opportunity to choose through the ballot box leaders to govern the people for another four-year tenure.

The opposition parties, especially the National Democratic Congress (NDC) have vowed to wrest power from the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and it is no wonder that the NDC has started what looks like 'a vigorous come back to power campaign'

Political analysts have predicted that the polls would be keenly contested between the NPP and NDC though some sceptics say any of the smaller parties could cause an electoral upset.

Currently, comments in the media are dominated by discussions by a cross section of Ghanaians on how best the country could organise free, fair and transparent elections.

The polls are nine months away but already special prayers are being said in Churches, Mosques and at national gatherings for free and violence free elections, an indication that the event is dear to the hearts of many Ghanaians.

But what is worrying about the forthcoming elections is the resort to threats, inflammatory and unsubstantiated statements in the media, especially by some politicians.

Already, some people have raised concerns about the merits of such comments by some social and political commentators in the media, since they could have a negative impact on the people, especially the youth who need to learn about the country's political history.

A large number of the electorate, who are mostly illiterate, tend to believe without questioning whatever the media say and might not necessarily vote for political parties with good intentions but those with powerful propaganda machinery.

Political parties apart from winning political power are obliged to educate the public on national issues and ensure peace and stability needed for national development.

In fact, political parties are vital sources of knowledge and information and politicians should not spread falsehood and distort the country's history in their bid to win elections.

Aside, disagreements among individuals and political parties are normal democratic practice and should, therefore, not be a recipe for acrimony, anarchy and violence.

We must preserve the peace and stability that have made the country one of the safest countries in the West Africa Sub-Region in recent times.

The type of violence and insecurity in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and La Cote d'Ivoire in the Sub-Region as a result of political intolerance should not be allowed to take roots in the country's body politic. The call on leaders of political parties to educate their members on the need to avoid violence to ensure peace and stability in the country by Mr Yaw Opoku, Chairman of the NPP Youth at Kranka in Nkoranza, should be considered with all the seriousness it deserves. Speaking to the Ghana News Agency, he said Ghanaians should realise that "we belong to one country and should not let party politics divide us. Those days when people fought and killed others over political issues are gone and should not be revisited since the world has acknowledged our maturity in politics".

It is, therefore, refreshing to hear that some political parties have issued statements indicating their commitment to ensuring a decent electioneering campaign and free, fair and non-violent polls. These promises must reflect in the conduct and pronouncements of political party functionaries as the country approaches the 2004 Election.

We should support the EC's initiates aimed at avoiding rigging at the polls and Ghanaians should take note that though governments are often accused of manipulating elections, it is possible for an opposition party to also manipulate polls especially in their strongholds.

The Commission would also be required to organise training and orientation courses for all electoral officials to enable the EC to guarantee free and fair elections to win the confidence of the people and the political parties.

The National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) should be well resourced to enable it to educate the electorate on the need to vote and know the procedures involved in the exercise.

Certainly, the country's democracy cannot develop without proper understanding of the electoral process by the people.

The Judiciary must establish Fast Track Electoral Courts to handle election disputes that might arise to prevent aggrieved parties from taking the law into their own hands because of delay in settling disputes.

The role of the security agencies in sustaining our political development is significant and they should be provided with adequate logistics and given the necessary training to enable them to maintain law and order during the entire election period.

Leaders of various religions should assist in educating their members on the importance of open, just and transparent elections to national reconstruction since they have mass following in the country. Traditional rulers and other influential opinion leaders should stay away from active party politics and they should allow people under their jurisdiction to belong to political parties of their choice. Eligible Ghanaians should be encouraged to register when the voters' register is re-opened to enable them to exercise their franchise.

Political leaders and their supporters should guard against the use of provocative or insulting words against members of other parties to avoid hostilities.

It is welcome news that the Government has persistently declared its readiness to create a level playing field and to provide adequate funding for the EC to conduct successful elections.

The Government has practically demonstrated this by rescinding its decision to establish a procurement committee for the EC, for the acquisition of electoral materials because public reaction to the proposal was negative.

The minority parties, particularly the NDC, have accused the NPP of exploiting incumbency to its advantage, citing manipulation of the state-owned media, among other allegations.

This is not the first time the matter has come up on the political platform. When NDC was in power, the NPP as the then main opposition Party took the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) to the High Court for giving too much coverage to the NDC to the disadvantage of the minority parties.

Though the court ruled that the GBC should give equal coverage to all political parties, the NPP continued to complain till it won the 2000 Elections.

No one can underestimate the power of the media in the political system, particularly during an election year. The government, political parties and officials of the state owned media must therefore collaborate efforts to resolve the matter once and for all.

The creation of 30 additional constituencies for the 2004 elections by the EC has also generated a lot of heat that should be handled dispassionately.

The minority parties have said though the EC has the authority to undertake the exercise, it would be unconstitutional to use the review for the forthcoming polls.

Mr Justice George Lamptey, a former Supreme Court Judge and past President of the Ghana Bar Association, Mr Sam Okudzeto, advised the EC against the creation of the additional constituencies for this year's election because it would amount to a violation of the 1992 Constitution.

The Commission reacted to the criticisms by declaring that its action was legal and individuals or group of individuals who thought the body acted wrongly could go to court.

Though the EC is an independent body and should not be influenced, individuals, organisations, political parties and the government must come together to find an amicable solution to the misunderstanding. Alternatively, the Judiciary could be asked to determine the validity of the EC's decision, to give meaning to the rule of law that we all so much cherish.

The Inter-Party Advisory Committee consisting of representatives of all the political parties should meet with the EC to initiate measures to ensure transparent polls.

All Ghanaians should embrace the EC's decision to re-open the voter's register and to issue identification cards to voters since the measures could assist in checking double voting and impersonation and other electoral malpractices.

However, the Commission should train local observers, including representatives of all contesting political parties and volunteers, to help monitor the polls to avoid rigging and electoral malpractices. The media should to be objective, fair and truthful, especially in their political reportage to enhance the country's infant democracy. They should also adhere to their code of ethics and avoid tendencies that could divide the country.

The necessary statutory changes should be made to allow the National Media Commission to regulate the work of Journalists especially during electioneering campaign.

This would be one of the most significant elections in post-independent Ghana and all efforts must be made to give credence to the results of the polls.

The ready acceptance of the outcome of the elections by all contesting political parties and the international community would help deepen the roots of democracy under the Fourth Republic.

This year's general election constitutes another litmus test of maturity under a democratic dispensation. We should therefore rise above parochial interests, consider the nation's interest first and take a giant step to consolidate the political gains so far made towards national development. 03 March 04

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