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01.03.2006 General News

Constitutional Crisis Looms Large

By The Statesman

94 By-Elections On Course? A constitutional crisis looms large. All 94 members of Parliament of the National Democratic Congress risk losing their seats as their indefinite boycott of the House hits the fifteen-day mark.

According to the Constitution and Standing Orders of Parliament, any Parliamentarian who absents himself from Parliament for more than fifteen sittings without the permission in writing of the Speaker shall vacate his seat. Some constitutional purists see this as calling for the ultimate sanction – vacation of seat. The argument is that the Minority did not seek leave from the Speaker, as regarded by law, and have not subsequently shown justifying cause for their absence.

An MP on the majority side who spoke to The Statesman Tuesday said: “we can't make exceptions just because there are 94 MPs involved. The law is the law. Simpliciter!” Another MP added: “If we have to hold 94 by-elections, we have no choice but be bound by the Constitution to find the money for the Electoral Commission to do just that.”

Some purists believe that the by-election option would send a clear message, “against those with intentions to disrespect constitutional institutions in favour of political hooliganism.” They argue that the NDC is setting a bad precedent with its introduction of indefinites to the conventional walk-out option for the Minority.

The NDC boycotted Parliament indefinitely on Thursday February 9. Thursday March 3, will be the fifteenth parliamentary day that the NDC MPs have refused to attend.

Parliament usually sits from Tuesday to Friday.

Information available to The Statesman is that the NDC MPs are caught in a very uncomfortable position. Hawks within the party, led by its founder Jerry John Rawlings, are vehemently against any move to break the boycott. “They're boiling for a constitutional crisis. They want us to dare the Speaker,” one such uneasy NDC MP disclosed to this paper.

But, several others are very uncomfortable about losing their seats. Others are simply not sure the boycott is the best of options. “We can still go out on the street to protest and come back to the House to protest,” said one. The next street demonstration is planned for Thursday, March 2. However, it is very unlikely that the Regional Police Command would allow it, considering the violence that marred the previous one.

According to the Standing Orders, an infringement of the 15-day rule shall be referred to the Privileges Committee before the Speaker can declare the seat vacant. The Privileges Committee is ordinarily made up of MPs from both sides of the House.

When The Statesman reached the Majority Leader Felix Owusu-Agyapong for comment yesterday, he refused to be drawn into the possibilities, preferring to say “we are still some days short of Friday.”

He, however, gave the impression that he might prefer a more conciliatory approach to solving this constitutional difficulty.

His counterpart, Minority Leader Alban Bagbin, had said earlier that his group was yet to take a decision on breaking the boycott.

Some of the Minority MPs are said to be considering the worst-case scenario, where they lose their seats and have to find the resources to contest a by-election, with the threat of defaulting on the $20,000 or more car loans they took from the legislature.

Meanwhile, the yet-to-be-launched Democratic Freedom Party of Obed Asamoah is showing a keen interest in the looming parliamentary crisis. The former NDC chairman is counting on some of the MPs to contest a by-election on his party's ticket. Whether this would be done through a breach of the 15-day rule or voluntary resignation on the part of some 'unhappy' NDC MPs is yet to be seen.

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