Come December 2020, Ghanaian voters would be going to the polls to decide who gets their mandate to lead – govern the nation for the next four years.
We are all too aware, the heat and tension associated with elections, especially in countries where the political culture is low. It is on the basis of this that, steps taken by the Electoral Commission (EC) to deepen its public engagement is most refreshing.
The Commission headed by Mrs Jean Mensa has had high-level stakeholder engagement with the former Presidents, the Council of State, the security agencies, the media and faith-based organisations.
These interactions, without doubt are vital for trust and confidence-building.
It provides the opportunity to gauge the concerns of all the key players and to work thoroughly and with integrity to win the solid backing of everybody and by so doing, remove any suspicion of political bias and vote-rigging.
This EC’s drive ties in with a key principle agreed on by African States under the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), which is, the holding of regular, transparent, free and fair elections.
ACDEG is a set of principles that spells out the norms, values and standards - universal values of democracy and respect for human rights; rule of law premised on the supremacy of the constitution and the democratic and credible elections.
Three major issues that came up during the EC’s conversation with stakeholders were: the inclusion of critical stakeholders in the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) meetings, sanitising the political parties and institutional reforms.
Raising The Bar For Political Party Registration
Members of the Council of State at their meeting with the EC were unequivocal in their position that the Commission needed to explore ways of ensuring that only vibrant political parties remained on its register.
Many of the political parties, they noted, existed only in name - they are dormant and have no offices at the local level.
This situation, the Council of State said, could not continue and asked that the Commission acted within the confines of the law to strike out the inactive parties.
Nana Otuo Siriboe II, Chairman of the Council, said: “There are regulations that govern political parties and if they are not conforming to the rules, then, their license needs to be revoked”.
He added that the bar for political party license acquisition should be raised to make sure that only those, in for serious business, were registered.
“The laws make it easy for people to acquire political party license, but if the process is reviewed and made robust, only the qualified ones will get the license”, he added.
The Police Administration, Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, the Christian Council, the Catholic Bishops Conference, Office of the Chief Imam and the Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, were all in total agreement that the political parties’ register should be overhauled – purge the inactive parties, to bring sanity.
The Commission, based on lessons from the 1992 general elections, created the IPAC in March 1994, to bring together representatives of the political parties to meet with Members of the EC to discuss and build consensus on electoral issues periodically.
At IPAC meetings, representatives of the international donor community, assisting the electoral process, are invited to observe proceedings. All political parties’ represented by their designated officers, participate in these meetings, which are not open to the general public or the media.
In recent times, the two dominant political parties – the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), and the largest opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), have been making contradictory statements in the media about decisions taken at IPAC meetings, something, many consider unhealthy for the nation’s democratic growth.
It was, therefore, not surprising that the leadership of the National Association of Charismatic and Christian Churches (NACCC), suggested to the EC to organise press briefings together with the leadership of the leading political parties at the end of every IPAC meeting, on any decisions made.
Additionally, they recommended the inclusion of critical stakeholders including the Peace Council, chiefs, religious leaders and civil society organisations in the IPAC meetings.
Archbishop Nicholas Duncan Williams believes this is the way forward to ensure trust, unity and cultivate a healthy relationship among stakeholders towards election 2020 and beyond.
Institutional Reforms At The Commission
While applauding their predecessors for the good job done, the EC Chairperson acknowledges that there are institutional lapses, which would have to be tackled.
That is why over the last 10 months, Mrs Mensa and her team, have focused priority on establishing a good governance framework - engaged the services of a consultant to conduct an institutional audit and make recommendations to streamline the EC’s operations.
They have an unconquerable resolve to reform the Commission through the institution of a governance structure to make it more vibrant.
“The EC used to be a very grey area where anybody could take advantage of the poor system. Human Resource-wise, some people have not been promoted for over 10 years so we have taken steps to make sure the career path is structured”, she says.
“We did not have a scheme of service. Now we are doing a lot to motivate staff. Already people have been promoted and we have instituted a staff meeting where people can air their views on critical issues.”
The former Presidents, the Catholic Bishop Conference and the Council of State share the same view that, without a well-structured institution, the EC could not function effectively.
Former Presidents John Jerry Rawlings, John Agyekum Kufuor and John Dramani Mahama have welcomed the transformational approach of the EC Chair and urged her to take decisive action and work diligently to sustain the country's democracy on the path of growth and peace.
The common refrain has been: “We know you have high integrity and moral standards. We have seen your work at the Institute of Economic Affairs and so we assure you of our support and partnership”.
The Commission is upbeat that with steps it is taking and the strong backing of everybody, a more transparent, free, fair and credible election, the outcome of which, will be accepted by the political parties and voters, is going to be delivered, come 2020.
The expectation is that all key actors would accept to play by the rules of the game.
By: Yaw Ansah