Yesterday, NDC militants from across Accra took to the streets to demonstrate their opposition to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill. Although opposition threats to create 'mayhem' largely failed to materialise and the event was for the most part a peaceful march, the heavy police presence was certainly needed as police officers brought several near-incidents to a speedy end and dealt with insults and aggravation along the route.
In addition, leading protestors have promised to continue their campaign of chaos if their demands for Government to drop the Bill are not passed. Now, several significant amendments have been proposed to the bill, which will be discussed in Parliament Thursday; and The Statesman supports these amendments.
Clearly, there are strong justifications for passing the Bill, not least the argument that ROPAB will be simply ironing out a constitutional discrepancy to enfranchise Ghanaians everywhere to vote; there is no stipulation in the 1992 Constitution that only Ghanaians resident in Ghana should be allowed to participate in elections, yet no provisions have so far been made to enable those outside the country to do so. Those who support and those who oppose the Bill would largely agree on this; it is not the principle that is the sticking point, but rather the mode of and concerns over the implementation of ROPAB once or if it is passed.
In particular, the opposition has expressed fears that the passing of ROPAB could simply be a government ploy to ensure another victory at the next general elections: a 'Golden Age to rig elections,' as one protest placard read in Tuesday's march.
What the proposed amendments will do is to strip the NDC of this lame excuse to oppose ROPAB; because we believe that it is indeed a lame and unsubstantiated 'fear' which may, as the General Secretary of the NPP has himself expressed, be being used as a mere excuse to hide their more “sinister” intentions.
For the NPP has no history of election rigging, unlike its concerned NDC counterpart; and there is no need to think that a party which is consistently gaining support whilst its rival flounders in the wake of a continuous stream of high-profile resignations would need to engage in such gerrymandering anyway.
Neither is there any proof that extending the vote to the Diaspora would favour the ruling party, as the NDC say they fear: whilst it is true that many Danquah-Busia sympathisers left the country during the Rawlings years, thousands have also moved abroad since, whilst some of those who left Ghana during the eighties for political reasons have now returned.
However, by addressing head-on these stated concerns of the opposition with the Bill itself – as the proposed amendments aim to do – the NDC will be stripped of all armoury; it will have no excuse to hide behind in its stated attempts to whip up national unrest, and no legitimate reason to stir up disquiet. The Statesman endorses the proposed amendment of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to Clause 2 of the Act, which would allow for the Electoral Commission to appoint any person or body to undertake the supervisory work of elections. This is proposed to substitute the existing clause, which, as it stands, reinforces the principle in the existing law that the Electoral Commission may appoint Heads of Mission to supervise the election process abroad.
The other significant change which will be proposed during Thursday's proceedings will, if passed, amend the offending clause of PNDC Law 284, which effectively denies Ghanaians abroad or Ghanaians without permanent abode in Ghana their constitutional right to register and vote.
The new clause, proposed by the Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, reads: “PDNCL 284 Section 7(1), paragraph (c), at end delete “and” and add “or hails from the constituency.”
Not only will this allow for Ghanaians now living abroad but born in Ghana or of Ghanaian parents to vote, but it will also give a voice to those thousands of homeless Ghanaians who are currently disenfranchised by their lack of permanent address.
By passing this amendment, and putting the power and practicalities of implementation firmly into the hands of the Electoral Commission (which, the NPP National Executive Council were keen to stress in a press conference Monday is a body independent of Government) Ghanaians abroad will be granted the vote, with the practicalities to be worked out at a future date.
Such modifications to the originally proposed ROPAB should n ot be seen as a weak option or back-out plan. Government is determined to see the passage into law of a Bill to enfranchise its three million Ghanaians currently living outside the country; the NDC is determined to oppose the Bill in its current form, using the legislation as an excuse to garner support for a more general fight against the ruling powers.
By agreeing to compromise, the Government is losing nothing and gaining everything. The Bill will be agreeable to those who ostensibly object to the practicalities of its implementation, placing the responsibility for this firmly in the hand of the independent Electoral Commission. It will pass, and the franchise will be granted, albeit by means of evolution rather than revolution if voting abroad has to be implemented by this slower and more convoluted approach.
Meanwhile, the opposition party, itching for a fight and desperate to whip up some much-needed support, will be disarmed, its rallying cry silenced. The Bill which is 'robbing' Ghana as so many of its opponents claim will be exposed as nothing more sinister than a constitutional correction; and the opposition to it will be exposed as nothing more substantial than a thinly-veiled and desperate attempt to commandeer a cause for their own political gain.