The University of Ghana (UG) chapter of the Tertiary Students Confederacy (TESCON); the student wing of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) has unprecedentedly tarnished its image with its recently held executive elections.
Having existed for 19 years, the 2019 confederacy election will not be remembered by many because it was well organized or conducted in a free and fair manner. It will rather be recognized for the extreme level of violence, electoral fraud and public endorsement of candidates by some incumbent local, regional and even national TESCON executives.
Per the initial election Calendar of UG TESCON, the 2019 executive election was scheduled for Friday May 3. Voting was to commence at 8:00am and end at 5pm. On Election Day however, voting began at 8:30am due to late arrival of electoral materials. The polls also closed at about 8:25pm as a result of the absence of the Electoral Commissioners, series of acts of violence and heightened tensions.
Key among the challenges that marred the polls included the missing names in the electoral register, over voting and widespread allegations of thumb- printed ballot papers deposited in ballot boxes in favor of Martin Abdallah, one of the presidential candidates.
There were also calls on the Electoral Commissioners (ECs) by a number of incumbent executives to rig the elections for their preferred candidates. In my interaction with the then 1st Deputy Electoral Commissioner of TESCON, Evans Nii Ayi Tagoe, he made a startling revelation on how the current TESCON Vice-President, John Apasipanga had asked him to plot and ensure that his candidate, Krobea Asante emerges victorious as president. Mr. Tagoe further disclosed that other executives including the Deputy TESCON Organizer, Phebe Olympio had also requested him to manipulate the polls in this order: Krobea Asante for President, Gyasi Eduam as Vice President, Ghanaba as Organizing Secretary and Thomas Boakye for the General Secretary position.
Critically assessing the high level of interest at play in that particular election, I have not been taken aback at the outcome. This write up highlights the major events of the entire electoral process, what should have been done and recommendations on the way forward.
Let me begin with the vetting of candidates. Regulation 9 (2) of the TESCON constitution states that, the EC in consultation with the Regional Youth Organiser shall form a vetting committee to vet all aspirants into any of the Executive Committee positions. Although this directive clearly gives the EC the duty to form a vetting committee with assistance from the Regional Youth Organiser, the ECs were sidelined in the formation of the vetting panel. Members of the committee were solely selected by the regional secretariat and imposed on the ECs.
This constitutional breach aside, these ‘imposed’ members of the vetting committee demanded payment from the ECs before they would release the results of the vetting. According to the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Boakye Opoku-Agyeman, the TESCON Regional Coordinator, Daniel Obeng had asked them to ‘tip’ members of the vetting panel. He said:
“Members of the vetting panel who were from the regional secretariat had threatened not to release vetting results unless we pay them an amount. After the vetting process, we had spent Ghc400gh on their transportation and a little over Ghc300 on their feeding though we had no financial assistance from the secretariat.”
This particular behavior exhibited by officials from the Regional Secretariat is a clear case of extortion as it is the constitutional duty of the secretariat to supervise and have representatives on the panel without taking a fee from the EC.
Information relayed by the EC indicated that 500 ballot papers were printed for all portfolios and as prescribed by the Constitutional Instrument. Only electorates whose names appeared in the electoral roll were to be allowed to cast their votes.
Halfway through voting, there were allegations from most of the candidates that the names of some their supporters had been expunged from the register. In a bid to address the complaints, an emergency meeting was held between all polling agents and the ECs to allow electorates with TESCON membership cards to exercise their franchise irrespective of whether their names were in the register or not.
For a period, calm was restored and voting continued smoothly until all the 500 ballot papers were used. The ECs had to halt the process, pending the arrival of new ballot papers. Then came up the issues of electoral fraud. There were more claims that, there ballot boxes were being stuffed with ballot papers thumb-printed in favour of Matin Abdallah- one of Presidential Candidate.
This bone of contention led to chaos as disadvantaged loyalists sought to abrupt the process. Tempers were calmed once again, voting continued. The re-ordered ballot papers finished at a time when many voters had queued to cast their vote.
The ECs organized another emergency meeting to announce to all polling agents and candidates of its decision to halt voting and continue the following day; a decision which outraged the candidates. They wanted the ECs to count all ballot papers that very day. The situation compelled the EC to inform the Police officers at post keep the ballot boxes and bring them back the following day for voting to continue because a lot more of people were yet to vote.
This was a few minutes after 8pm. The ECs after giving the directive to the police left the polling center because some unidentified individuals had tried to attack them.
The ECs agreement with Police was changed by one Chris Kuoyo, a National Communication Officer of the NPP who coerced the Presiding Officer to sort out and count ballot papers in defiance of the ECs order.
This did not also end peacefully as candidates refused to accept results obviously over the clear case of election irregularities.
At this point, it must be noted that, this declaration of provisional results was unconstitutional because, it is the sole duty of the chair of EC to declare the general provisional results [and in this case the chairperson had halted the process]. Also, the Presiding Officer had been coerced to count the papers, it does raise eyebrows.
Annulment of provisional results
I would like to end the highlights with the annulment of the provisional results. As I stated, the Presiding Officer was compelled to count and declare provisional results. Following the announcement, there were messages came from unknown sources congratulating both presidential candidates on being presidents-elect. The circulars were responded by the EC stating emphatically that, it has not yet announced any results.
Later on, the Regional Youth Organiser and one Moses Abbor also issued a counter-message on WhatsApp invalidating the election results. The EC said, the actions of the Regional Youth Organiser were surprising because it has not been consulted.
The Regional Officer was unconstitutional move was unconstitutional because took the law into his hands and did what favored him. The TESCON constitution stipulates that, under such circumstances, concerned candidates are to petition the Judicial Committee. If the petitioner is not pleased with the Judicial Committee’s verdict, he or she then proceeds to appeal the office of the Regional Youth Organiser.
Having given an account of major events that transpired during the 2019 UG TESCON elections, it is evident that, the time has now come for student to fiercely fight the interference of external political figures in student politics.
The intrusion of these political actors is forfeiting the aim of student activism – the singular reason for which most of these groups were formed. TESCON although a student wing of the NPP is structured to operate independently with an independent constitution to guide its activities. For the past two years however, TESCON has been unable democratically elect its leaders. Its executives have been forced on them by powers above inconsiderate of whether selected leaders are choice of students or not, an act which defeats the basic principle of democracy and a major constitutional breach of the TESCON constitution.
The situation is not exclusive to TESCON. Some Student Representative Councils (SRCs) and other student advocacy groups such as the National Union of Ghanaian Students (NUGS) are now useless and ineffective due to political infiltration.
Students must now acknowledge the harm this situation is causing and make conscious efforts to allow instituted systems work independently. Undisputedly, one cause for the political and external infiltration in student politics is the desire for student leaders to get their agenda and campaigns sponsored by political godfathers who in return manipulate them should they win power. Although it seems unavoidable, it can be controlled if there is a policy to standardize the cost of campaigning to make it affordable for all students.
Written by: Elliot Ayertey Nuertey
NB: This review was written based on information provided me by the Electoral Commissioner.
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