Article 55(3) under Representation of the People of 1992 Constitution of Republic of Ghana states: "Subject to the provisions of this article, a political party is free to participate in shaping the political will of the people, to disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character, and sponsor candidates for election to any public office either than to district assemblies or lower local government unit." This provision prevents political parties to participate or sponsor a candidate in the election of Metropolitan, Municipal, District Chief Executives (MMDCEs), Assembly Members and Unit Committee Members. The clause is an entrenched provision (EP) which means it can be amended only through a referendum. The referendum on 17th December 2019 is intended to amend this provision to allow political parties to participate. On the elections of MMDCEs by qualified voters as currently done for District Assembly and Unit Committee Members, it can be amended by Parliament with super majority approval which means two thirds votes in second and third readings of the bill by the entire house since it is not an EP.
WHY SHOULD POLITICAL PARTIES PARTICIPATE? THE REASONS TO VOTE “YES” TO AMEND ARTICLE 53(3)
As Churchill rightly said: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." Democracy is not perfect. Society keeps improving on democracy to make it suit and serve the need of people. Participation is a key principle in democracy. Allowing political parties, who are major stakeholders in democratic practices to participate in local elections is a major step and an improvement on democratic credentials, good governance, accountability and realizing the real meaning of decentralization. All over the world, we learn from best practices. The United States of America, The United Kingdom, some countries in Central and Eastern Europe allow political parties to participate in local elections. Now, let me turn our focus to Ghana.
Article 55(1, 2 and 5) of the 1992 Constitution clearly states, some core functions of political parties and the nature of their organization which is indispensable of democratic process.
1. The right to form political parties is hereby guaranteed. This means it is a right to form a political party which makes it not a wrong practice in Ghana.
2. Every citizen of Ghana of voting age has the right to join a political party. A Ghanaian chooses to join a political party he/she prefers as an adult citizen of Ghana. Which means he/she is entitled to enjoy from the political party for its purpose of formation of which he/she joined.
5. The internal organisation of a political party shall conform to democratic principles and its actions and purposes shall not contravene or be inconsistent with this constitution or any other law. Activities of a political party is not in contravention of governance system of Ghana. Their activities and roles compliment the development of democracy in the country and the constitution recognizes it as such.
Local government system is the immediate government structure close to the people. The people are proximally represented in local government through their elected representatives and they decide policies for the districts, municipal or metropolitan assembly. Political parties made of citizens should therefore not be denied of participation in the elections of choosing these crucial representatives.
One of the major challenges in Ghana’s democratic practices is the winner-takes-all syndrome which characterizes the body politics. A political party that wins power control all political positions from local level to the national level. The party controls MMDCEs, Regional Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State, the Vice-President and the President. Has the country thought of the ideas and interest of minority groups who may belong to other political parties? Where do we get them represented? Only in National Parliament? This is woefully inadequate. We keep them silent at the local level. In the national level, the minority will have their say but the majority will have their way is their share.
When political parties can participate in local elections, all major groups will have direct involvement in the governance and development of the country. It will put all political parties in the position of responsibility for everyone to contribute their ideas. The ruling party is not singularly responsible for all things especially at the local level where proximity to people is key. At least, other political parties are equally responsible for local development through pragmatic ideas put in practice by their elected official(s) in the localities. Ultimate responsibility lies with every major political party.
To further affirm our reasons why everyone should vote “YES” in the incoming referendum, let us consider two contrasting ideologies in Political Science: Idealism and Realism. Idealism explains "What Ought To Be", that is, what we have all agreed either on paper, by law or by principle to be the case in society. Realism deals with "What Is The Case", that is looking at what is happening and making sense out of it to live a harmonious life, the reality. On paper or by law, political parties are not allowed to participate in the current elections of Assembly and Unit Committee Members but, they are in there. I know of one immediate past district assembly member who told me what happened when selling his message to the people of his electoral area through house-to-house campaign. The local people kept on asking him "What political party do you belong to"? He will politely reply them, "There is no political party involvement in this election”, but the people will respond, "it’s not true, we know political party candidates and we will vote for our party candidate". This gentleman had to quickly re-strategize and make his political affiliation known to the people. He won the elections.
Government appointees to Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies have turned partisan. The president (a partisan political head) of the day appoints them even when the term of the assembly has not expired. Ideally, political parties are not allowed to participate in the selection and election of Assembly and Unit Committee Members but, they are in there. If this is for electoral area seats and government appointees, how much more MMDCEs who head the local assembly? Political parties will find ways (although it will be unlawful but hard to determine and punish) to involve themselves which is not healthy for democracy. Making it open on partisan basis will ensure transparency, accountability and responsibility.
Some arguments for No vote are that, partisan politics divide the country and making local elections partisan will further promote division. That argument is not strong enough, does not have any scientific basis and cannot stand the test of time. Ghana have had partisan elections (and not only Ghana but the most advanced countries in the world) since 1992. The people of Ghana are still living as one people and making progress through electoral competition. We cannot deny ourselves this fact. The divisive nature of our politics is because, opposition parties are left out completely in the governance of the country due to the winner-takes-all syndrome. They try all means to make the ruling government look extremely bad because they are completely left out in decision making. However, if they have some of their people managing affairs at the local level, they will feel part of governance, be responsible and offer constructive criticisms and not the reverse.
Lastly, studies show that people do not participate or vote in local assembly elections in Ghana because of non-involvement of political parties. Low electoral participation, that is low voter turnout has been identified as a major threat to democracy. Do Ghanaians want to continue threatening their democracy at the local level which forms the basis of democracy and where the people are? I think we must find solution to this and this the right time to do it by voting “YES” to allow political party participation.
Let us campaign, support and vote “YES” to ensure responsibility, accountability, maximum participation and good governance at the local level where closer representation can be found.
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