Currently, the brouhaha over the Electoral Commission’s decision regarding the compilation of a new voters’ register for Ghana is ongoing with vehement submissions from various political actors in the country.
Created by article 43 (1) of the 1992 Constitution, the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana has several constitutional functions and one of these functions per article 45 (a) of the Constitution is that the EC must compile the register of voters and revise it at such periods as may be determined by law.” In some jurisdictions, the electoral register is also called the electoral roll, voters’ roll or poll book. In consonance with Article 42 of the Constitution, the EC of Ghana must ensure that the register contains the electoral-related demographic information of eighteen (18) or years old citizens of Ghana who are of sound mind and who have the right to vote in public elections and referenda.
The Essence of An Electoral Register
The essence of an electoral register is to streamline voting on Election Day, to aid voter identity verification, to combat electoral fraud and to prevent multiple voting among other reasons. Whereas most jurisdictions maintain permanent electoral registers, some also compile new registers for each election. Ghana has not been known for the latter so the EC compiles and cleans the voters’ register periodically.
The NPP’s Proposal For A New Voter Register In 2015
In 2015 however, the EC objected to numerous calls to compile a new voters’ register. The call for the new register at the time emanated from the allegations by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) that the voters’ register contained the names of foreigners especially names of some citizens of the Republic of Togo. At the time, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), which was the party in power also rebutted that there were no foreigners on the electoral register and that some personal names in Ghana are equally used in Togo since Togo and Ghana have Eʋe speaking people. Surprisingly, the register the NPP objected to in 2015 brought the same political party to power in January 2017 after the party won the 2016 general elections in December that year. Paradoxically, the register the NPP alleged was compiled in favour of the NDC rather removed the NDC from power. Does this make the NPP allegation scientific and for that matter logical? Or it was a mere political cynicism?
The Dispute Over Compilation of A New Voters’ Register
One of the heated debates within the national discourse in Ghana in recent times is the brouhaha over the EC’s resolve to compile a new voters’ register. Whereas the NPP and about thirteen (13) other political parties have supported the EC’s intention to compile a new voters’ register, most of the players in the Ghanaian political scene including the NDC and many civil society organizations (CSOs) have objected to the idea of new register compilation. Both the supporting and opposing parties of the idea of compiling a new a register have been submitting their justifications and convincing the general public to side with them.
This discourse of not accepting a new register, initiated mainly by the NDC has once again demonstrated the lack of nationalistic thinking in Ghana. This is because the discourse so far is not far from the 2015 one initiated by the NPP and the discourse has brought more practical meanings to what the Public Choice Theory says about the behaviour of political elites. The theory postulates that human beings are naturally self-centred and therefore focus on utility maximization or benefits that they get from an activity. By extension therefore, politicians tend to act rationally for cynical reasons rather than achieving public goals altruistically. It is therefore clear that both the NPP and NDC positions on the EC’s resolve to compile a new register are vote-winning centred rather than what is sustainably good for Ghana as a nation and for the benefit of posterity. It is about time we put Ghana first rather than the utility maximization for few political elites who occupy high offices only to gain and not to serve the nation truly. Partisan cynicism must give way to synergy and nationalistic thinking under the circumstance. A black object must not be described as near black in colour only for a cynical political gain.
Is The EC Not Impairing Its Neutrality And Constitutional Mandate?
Article 46 of the Constitution, 1992 states, “Except as provided in this Constitution or in any other law not inconsistent with this Constitution, in the performance of its functions, the Electoral Commission, shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.”
Surprisingly, the EC constituted a 21 member Eminent Advisory Committee (EAC) under the chairmanship of the Former CHRAJ Boss, Justice Emile Short. I think that mindful of the tenets of article 46 of the Constitution cited ut supra, and mindful of the existence of the Peace Council whose Chairman is also a member of the EC formed EAC, the formation of the EAC amounts to duplication of efforts and waste of national resources. We could have directed these fine brains to other activities of national interest. After all, the EAC is an advisory body and in line with article 46, the EC is not bound to comply with every advice of the EAC if the EC thinks that it is being controlled by the EAC.
It is not surprising that the Daily Graphic reported the EC as saying that its decision on the new voters’ register compilation is final and will not change. It means logically that not even the EAC can convince the EC to change this decision. Setting up the EAC is therefore needless and a deviation from the EC’s mandate and also amounts to impairment of mandate.
There is also some inconsistency in the way the EC is conducting affairs. Earlier, we heard from the EC that the register was credible and it was this same register that was used for the referendum in creating the six (6) new regions. This same register was used in conducting the recent district assembly elections and this same register was used in conducting the controversial Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election. And but for the President’s cancellation of the intended referendum relating to political party participation in local government elections, this same register would have been used for the purpose. Which one does the EC want the general public to believe? That the register is credible or not credible or that the EC just wants to engage in a public purse wasting activity. Readers should remember that both the NPP and NDC still maintain their 2015 views on the credibility of the register. In 2015, NPP believed the register was not credible but it brought the party to power any way. However, the party still believes the register must change. In 2015, the NDC thought, and 2020 it still thinks the register is credible and so a new one must not be compiled.
Even in 2019, the EC itself maintained that the register was credible. So at what point did it become incredible to have warranted a new compilation? The Ghanaian voters must be told. To my mind, a constitutionally neutral body like the EC must not be seen to approbate and reprobate at the same time on an issue of this nature. Doing so amounts to the impairment of the EC’s neutrality and public trust in the electoral body. Above all, the EC is working with the political parties so there must be healthy discourse and consensus among all stakeholders regarding the voters’ register. There must not be an entrenched position at all. We do not want electoral conflicts or civil war in Ghana due to political cynicism or any other thing. Ghanaians are already suffering in the hands of political elites so they need a break to enjoy a bit of peace. Surprisingly, we are not hearing the public voices of both the Peace Council and the EAC over the new register compilation brouhaha. We hope that they are working tirelessly behind the scenes to calm nerves and to prevent any calamitous situation that will take the country back to the 1980s.
Why Are Those Opposing The New Register Compilation Not Proceeding To Court?
On almost a daily basis, we hear the voices of the NDC and many other bodies and individuals in the media space either demonstrating or granting interviews or doing both to drum home the fact that compiling a new voters’ register is needless and waste of the public purse. Having heard all this over the months from 2019, one keeps wondering why the continuous shouts atop the roofs without proceeding to court.
In 2016 for example, Papa Kwesi Nduom (the Progressive People’s Party’s presidential candidate as he then was) filed for the writs of prohibition and certiorari in the High Court, against both the EC Boss at the time (Mrs. Charlotte Osei) and the EC as body. The fact of the matter was that the erstwhile EC Boss and the EC prevented Papa Kwesi Nduom from correcting errors on the surface of his presidential candidate nomination form and the EC wanted to go ahead to toss for positions on the presidential ballot paper without including Papa Kwesi Nduom just because there were errors in his documents. Papa Kwesi Nduom won the case because the High Court granted him both certiorari and prohibition. The EC or Mrs. Charlotte Osei did not file an appeal but rather complied with the court decision.
Perhaps this is a good lesson for the NDC and the many other opponents of the EC in the current brouhaha to proceed to court and file for prohibition and other prerogative orders necessary to deepen democracy rather than the continuous shout from the rooftops and on the streets. After all, what we want is a neutral electoral system that will guarantee free, fair and peaceful elections all the time.
Even the EC’s ouster comment on its decision being final creates room for a judicial review or intervention. Advisedly, article 23 of the Constitution states, “Administrative bodies and administrative officials shall act fairly and reasonably and comply with the requirements imposed on them by law and persons aggrieved by the exercise of such acts and decisions shall have the right to seek redress before a court or other tribunal.“ In addition, article 296 (b) of the Constitution prohibits an arbitrary exercise of discretionary power. On the constitutional bases stated herein, the NDC or even a coalition of Ghanaian voters can proceed to court for a judicial intervention or determination in the matter to bring to an end, this unfortunate brouhaha over whether or not we should compile a new voters’ register. No cynical zero-sum game should be encouraged. What is a win-win for both the ordinary citizens and the political elites must be encouraged. On this note, I wish the right and the most peaceful thing is done to eschew any conflict situation in this election year. We do not want to contemplate even for a second, that the current situation is a prelude to happenings we should expect on the campaign trail later this year.
~Asante Sana ~
Author: Philip Afeti Korto
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