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15.02.2006 Press Review

EDITORIAL: Ropab - Let's Freeze It!

By Chronicle
Yesterday saw thousands of Ghanaians pour on to the streets of the capital in a protest march against the passage of a bill before the Parliament of the Republic. The marchers included four political parties; the largest opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the People's National Convention (PNC), the EGLE Party, and the National Reform Party (NRP). These party supporters among other members of the Ghanaian society forming the concerned citizens of Ghana, had poured on to the streets to protest against the passage of the Representation of the People's (Amendment) Bill (ROPAB) as all the salient arguments advanced against the consideration of the bill as it exists now, have fallen on deaf ears. Unfortunately for the good people of Ghana, the House has become so polarized that it has now become almost impossible for sound reasoning to prevail on major national policy issues, except where there was some freebies to be shared among members. It was in this polarized environment that ROPAB was rushed. The haste with which the Bill was handled, in itself raised suspicions. Questions, such as why the urgency to carry ballot boxes to Ghanaians abroad, when local electoral hiccups had not been addressed, were raised. Other questions had bordered on why the government did not consider bills like the Disability Bill, Domestic Violence Bill, Whistleblowers' Bill or Freedom of Information Bill, particularly as some of these have been on the lips of the President right from the first year of his first term in office. The Chronicle has in its own small way and analysis of the situation, as well as the manner of the debate, called for caution to be exercised since there are fundamental issues we needed to address, in order that extending ballot boxes beyond our borders would not lead to chaos. Unfortunately, all reasoning seems to have been lost, and the debate is no more about the pros and cons of the bill becoming law. Generally, it is expected that in a multiparty democracy, the majority decision prevailed. However, it is also true that the majority is not always right. In fact the fourth republican Parliament has demonstrated through some earlier decisions that the majority cannot always be trusted to take the right decisions. The IFC and CNT loans faux pas readily come to mind. One of the blots in our political history is the Preventive Detention Act (PDA). It was passed by the Parliament of the First Republic, dominated by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah' s Convention People's Party (CPP). Again, the declaration of the country as a one party state, in that same republic was by an Act of Parliament. The dire consequences of those laws, passed by the legitimate representatives of the people, for not only political opponents of the ruling CPP, but also its own members, remain blots in the annals of the country. As far as The Chronicle is concerned fundamental issues of citizenship identification need to be urgently addressed to, not only, help us derive a more credible voters' register, but also help identify Ghanaians living abroad, in order to reduce the level of distrust likely to characterize going out there to register voters when we do not know how many people are out there. It is a well-accepted fact that it is better to count ballots at elections than to cut heads. Anything therefore, that has the potential of undermining the credibility of our elections, with the likely consequences of creating confusion, ought to be stemmed. The signals are too glaring even at this stage that we are uncertain what we are wading into with this bill, as there are too many uncertainties regarding its implementation after passage. As stated in one of our previous editorials, there are over 180 countries worldwide, and yet Ghana has foreign missions in just about 50 countries. What this means is that in the event of us deciding to facilitate the exercise of registration and voting rights of Ghanaians living abroad, we would either have to set up registration centers in all countries, or extend such centers beyond places where we have missions. To suggest that we limited the extension of the registration and voting exercise to Ghanaians living in specific countries and not others, would not only be discriminatory, but also not lead to achieving the constitutional provision on the right to vote, which the advocates for the immediate amendment claim to seek giving meaning to. Article 42 of the Constitution on the RIGHT TO VOTE, states that; 'Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda'. The need for electoral reforms, to facilitate the above provision is not in dispute, as even for Ghanaians living in the country, there are thousands who attain 18 years before voting day, and yet never get registered to vote because there is a cap on the registration date. The best way for us to widen the right to vote is to first have a proper citizens' database, that would automatically let us know how many Ghanaians are eligible to vote. The Chronicle finds it regrettable that such an important national exercise has degenerated to the current level and therefore calls for a withdrawal of the controversial Bill, to allow for more work to be done, through the involvement of the wider society.