Increasingly, people are positioning the election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) as the main and primary reason for the impending referendum.
But that is not the case. Fact is MMDCEs can be elected without going through a referendum.
The impending referendum, as has been said by many, is simply about whether or not Ghanaians want political parties to be allowed to sponsor candidates for District Assembly and Unit Committee elections just as it is done in parliamentary and presidential elections.
If we vote YES, then we can in the coming years, have NPP Assembly members, NDC Assembly members, CPP Assembly members, APC Assembly members etc.
In the same vein, we will, subject to amendments to other provisions of our constitution, also have for example, NDC DCE for Ketu North District, NPP MCE for Suame Municipal, CPP DCE for Elembelle District, PNC DCE for Sisala West District, etc.
The argument is that we have to go through a referendum to change Article 55(3) of our constitution because that Article (an entrenched clause) debars political parties from sponsoring candidates for elections to District Assemblies or lower local government units.
So those who prefer to have political parties sponsor candidates for District Assembly and unit committee elections, say we should vote YES to change Article 55(3) and those who will not like to see parties sponsor candidates for those elections say we should vote NO.
But in what appears to be a propaganda or deception, many of the YES campaigners are making it seem it is impossible for Ghanaians to have the opportunity to elect who they want as their MMDCEs unless Article 55(3) is amended through a referendum.
In other words, they create the impression that voting NO means the President should and will necessarily continue to appoint MMDCEs. Such a position or argument is clearly false and misleading.
The position of District Chief Executives (now MMDCEs) is NOT created by Article 55(3). The position is a creation of Article 234(1) which says: “There shall be a District Chief Executive for every district who shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of not less than two-thirds majority of members of the Assembly present and voting.” This Article is not an entrenched provision, which means parliament has the power to amend it.
The truth, therefore, is that Ghanaians can vote for who they want as their MMDCEs if their representatives in Parliament want to give them that power and opportunity to do so. In order words, whether or not Ghanaians can elect their MMDCEs is in the hands of our Members of Parliament (MPS).
Our parliament can change the status quo by simply amending Article 243(1) to read: “There shall be a Chief Executive for every District who shall be elected by qualified voters in a District through universal adult suffrage.” When this change is made, Ghanaians can vote to freely elect who they want as MMDCEs just as they vote to freely determine who they want as Assembly members and unit committee members.
So election of MMDCEs it is not about amendment of Article 55(3) through a referendum. It is all about amendment of Article 243(1) by parliament. It must, therefore, be made clear that it is not the case that Ghanaians cannot vote to decide who they want as MMDCEs without amending Article 55(3) through a referendum. Any claim to the contrary is either intended to mislead or deceive.
What Ghanaians may not have the opportunity to do if Article 55(3) is not amended as proposed in the impending referendum, is the election of MMDCEs on partisan basis so that we can have NPP MMDCEs, NDC MMDCEs, etc.
In summary, what the advocates for YES votes want us to have are the following:
- For each local unit, it should be made possible for Ghanaians to elect NDC, NPP, CPP, etc unit Committee members.
- For every electoral area, it should be made possible for Ghanaians to elect APC Assembly members, NPP Assembly members, NDC Assembly members, CPP Assembly members, Independent Assembly Members (if possible) etc.
- For every District, Ghanaians should be voting to elect NPP MMDCEs, NDC MMDCEs, APC MMDCEs etc and, Independent MMDCEs (if at all possible).
The argument by the YES campaigners in favour of electing MMDCEs and assembly members on partisan lines has been that doing so will help deal with what has come to be known as “winner-takes-all” politics in our governance.
They argue that, for example, under the current NNP administration, if MMDCEs had been elected on partisan basis, we would have had a lot of NDC supporters winning as MMDCEs in the Volta region for instance and their strongholds in other parts of the country. That, they say, will make the NDC feel that they too have 'taken' some of the power.
They make power-sharing sound like a great idea for national transformation. And it makes me remember the power-sharing government of Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya and that of Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe. What were the fruits of that arrangement of “everyone-takes-some politics” even at the topmost level? Maybe the YES, campaigners can answer.
The YES advocates, go on to conjecture that if MMDCEs were to be elected on partisan basis, some of the smaller parties (who are now unable to win a single parliamentary seat) will win MMDCE positions in some parts of the country where they are supposedly strong. This, they say, will help deal with the NPP/NDC duopoly. Really?
Well, these arguments may seem convincing and lofty. But that is only in theory. In practice and reality, they are not. If the smaller parties have been squeezed out of parliament by the NPP and NDC, why would anyone think they will be allowed to win the position of MMDCEs?
Remember, in a lot of cases, metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies have more than one parliamentary seat. If those smaller parties can win some MMDCE positions because they may be strong in some districts or localities, why are they not able to win the parliamentary seats in those same local areas? The fact is, our politics of today is all about 'money dey talk,' and the NPP and NDC are the ones who can make money talk.
On the politics of winner-takes-all argument, the phenomenon is perpetrated and perpetuated at the national or central government level. If it's a disease that must be cured, we need to deal with it at the top. Exporting the problem to the local level cannot be the solution. It will rather worsen the problem.
Even if having members of other political parties other than the party of the President as MMDCEs were to be a part of the solution to the winner-takes-all politics, we do not need partisan MMDCEs elections in order to have members of other parties become MMDCEs.
In fact, the same YES campaigners argue that, even though district level elections are supposed to be non-partisan, the parties get involved secretly. In order words, though the Assembly elections are supposed to be non-partisan, assembly members are affiliated to political parties. This argument is an indirect admission that when it comes to Assembly elections, there is no winner-takes-all. The President appoints all MMDCEs, but at the Assembly level, different parties are represented.
In the same vein, let there be non-partisan election of MMDCEs. Take away the President's power to appoint MMDCEs. Let people contest in their individual capacities irrespective of their known or unknown political party affiliations, and let the people decide who they want as their MMDCEs.
In the end, if the constituency organiser of the NDC contests for the position of DCE for Ketu North District in his personal capacity and wins, we will not need a local governance expert to tell us that a person belonging to the NDC is the DCE for Ketu North District under an NPP Presidency. Since the person contested in his personal capacity and not as an NDC candidate, he becomes DCE for Ketu North district, not NDC DCE for Ketu North District.
It will be the same if a known NPP person wins to become MCE for Oforikrom Municipal in Ashanti region, a PNC person wins in Sisala East district in Upper West region, a CPP person wins in Elembelle District in Western region and an APC person wins for Accra Metropolitan. They will be MMDCEs known to be affiliated to their respective political parties. Their parties will know their people have won power and so they as parties have also 'taken some,' but the elected people will not call themselves or be called party A or Party B MMDCEs.
To point out the difference in having a non-partisan versus partisan local level election, this is what one Assembly member recently told me: “Me everyone in the assembly knows me to be NDC. But because I am not representing my people as NDC Assemblyman, when I need something I am able to go to the MCE and she listens to me. I can’t do that if I am NDC Assemblyman. She will tell me to go and see my constituency chairman.”
Another assembly man reinforced the point by saying: “What party, party? Me I am NPP man but after elections everyone calls me assemblyman not NPP assembly man. When NDC people in the village have problems they come to me as assemblyman. No one thinks of NPP and NDC when we have problems to solve in our community which the assembly man has to lead. When I organise communal labour, both NDC and NPP people come. If I am NPP assemblyman, NDC people will say they won’t come to help make my party popular in the village here.”
Yet another argued: “Look, our MPs are like bigger assemblymen and they are on party lines; what have they been able to do because they are on party lines? When the MP comes here, NDC people don’t care because he is NPP MP. The local system is not broken. Why do they want to fix something that is not broken?”
And even another raises the issue of peace: “Massa, forget about this party, party talk. Look, we all know who belongs to which party; but because the contest is not openly NPP/NDC, there is calm. If it was NPP/NDC openly, I can’t tell you how many local fighting will be here. Campaign teams will clash all the time and the campaign will me manyaaa. Massa they should leave us in peace ooo.”
Yes, political parties are already involved clandestinely in District Assembly elections. But what is the problem with that? At least because the parties are not involved directly, it limits their capacity to introduce some of their money-seeking, obnoxious, discriminatory and favouritism practices.
That is the only reason why my friends, Opanin Kwame Gyan and Abdulai Salifu, who have never been to school and cannot afford any party nomination and filing fees have diligently served their communities as assembly members for the last 8 years and may continue to serve them.
Do they openly belong to political parties? Yes, they belong to the NPP and NDC respectively and their parties know. It has been so and there have been no problems. They are saved the so-called vetting by party executives with needless partisanship considerations.
Making local level elections openly partisan simply because parties are already involved from behind the scenes solves no problem. It rather introduces obvious problems.
If the system is not broken why fix it? We can choose who we want as MMDCEs without a referendum. Parliament should amend Article 243(1). Let's push our MPs to do it if we want to elect our MMDCEs and if our government wants the people to elect their MMDCEs.
Sulemana Braimah is the Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa ( MFWA).
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