In the early hours of 7th January 2021 The Rt Hon Alban Sumana Kinsford Bagbin was elected Speaker of the 8th Parliament of the 4th Republic. This did not happen without some unusual dramatic episodes and controversies The event which was originally meant to take two (2) hours had to roll on for eight and half (8.5) hours. This obviously played out some hidden but well-rehearsed, unfair and dishonest tactics which clearly demonstrate how the verdict of the Ghanaian electorate was stolen from the obvious and deserving winner at the 7th December 2020 polls. The ensuing discussion show how some of these unfair tactics were deployed in attempt to arrest the victory of the NDC nominated candidate in the choice of a Speaker. I recast the events that occur within the more than eight hours space because I was an eye witness t almost everything that occurred.
Unfair manipulation of the electoral register and polling process.
In playing out this tactic the electoral officers or those in control present a skewed and faulty arrangement that could benefit one party with sure favourable consequences to them at the close of polls. In a general sense this would happen during the compilation of the register that would be used to conduct the elections with the deliberate exclusion or intended exclusion of some voters. It also includes the arrangement of polling stations and the choice of electoral officers and their staff.
How it Played out in the 2020 General Elections
The 2020 general elections had all these features played out. In Asawase for example, a polling station was placed in the house of an NPP ward chairman and was resisted. In the Banda Constituency and in parts of the Volta and the Oti Regions people were prevented from registering on grounds that they were not Ghanaians. The courts were also used as vehicles for the denial of duly elected parliamentary candidates from holding themselves out as such. One clear example is running against Christopher Bayeri, the NDC candidate for Techiman South.
How it played out at the Election of the Speaker
At the election of the Speaker the polling booth was initially tilted to the NPP side so that a voter could vote and show his or her vote to their leadership. This was to enforce a three-line whip arrangement to members to vote for Professor Aaron Ocquaye, their nominated candidate. This was contrary to the constitutional imperative of secret balloting as captured in the standing orders in Parliament. This is borne out of Article 104 (4) of the 1992 Constitution and Standing Order 9 (1) which demand that the election of the Speaker shall be done by secret ballot. In addition to this, in announcing the finally compiled register, the returning officer sought to exclude one voter, Hon Quayson James Gyakye, MP for Assin North. This was after the NPP Deputy Leader raised an issue of a Cape Coast High Court injuncting the Hon Member and urging the Clerk not to allow him to be part of the voter register nor be allowed to be sworn in as a Member of Parliament. The honourable member was not in court in person and received no such injunction from any court bailiff. The returning officer, the Clerk, attempted to serve the member inside the chamber by reading out the content of the so-called injunction and went on to implement its directive by excluding the member from the vote.
Resistance by the NDC in Parliament
The repeated stage of these vicious tactics from the general elections were more than vigorously resisted by the NDC MPs. Starting with the intended exclusion of the Assin North MP from the voter register the counter legal argument was the interlocutors injunction from the court was not properly served and was not also received within the acceptable time frame. What the Clerk who presided over the election of the Speaker was doing was ultra vires. He was going beyond his authority as a Clerk and returning officer. Part of it was the reason ballot boxes were kicked out from the polling stations. To that effect the NDC thought the member could not be excluded by an injunction he did not see nor received and that the Clerk was doing the wrong thing by attempting to serve it on the Member and enforcing its content.
The next issue of concern was to tackle the insistence of the NPP on its three lined whip policy which in its implementation was in contravention to the constitutional directive of secrete balloting. Talks behind the scenes and persuasions to allow the process work unhinded fell on deaf ears. The NPP insisted on violating the secret ballot rule of the constitution and the standing orders of Parliament. The NPP members voted and stepped forward and showed their vote to their superiors despite the protest by the NDC Chief Whip, Hon Alhaji Muntaka Mohammed, who was the NDC Polling Agent. At one point when despite Hon Muntaka’s opposition a member from their side went to vote and showed his vote to his leaders. It called for Muntaka picking the box and placing it in front of the Clerk and insisting that once the vote was shown to the public it, it was nullified and couldn’t be a put in the box. The standing orders on secrete voting was on his side and that action was not a violation.
The worst of it happened when a deputy Marshall of Parliament, identified as Colonel Fosu and suspected to be an NPP sympathizer, walked to the polling station and quickly took out a piece or pieces of paper from his pocket and apparently attempted to stuff the ballot box with. Three red eyed MPs, Hon John Jinapo, the MP for Yapei-Kusawgu, Hon Murtada Mohammed, MP for Tamale Central and Hon Edward Abambire Bawa, MP for Bongo were the first to charge on this broad daylight robber as he escaped with some light bruises running with tail between the legs. The deputy Marshall’s act of breach of the process and commonly agreed decorum was enough infuriation for some further action by others to dismantle the whole arrangement that saw the ballot box and the polling booths flying at different direction. Indeed, it is a truism that the price of democracy is perpetual vigilance.
The needless Deployment of Thugs, Police Officers, and Military Personnel at Polling stations and Collation Centres
Another tactic used was to intimidate the voter and even beat or fire live bullet at voters to harm a person or two to put the fear of God in the harmless, peaceful voter. As we observed throughout the country the police or army or possibly thugs clothed as police or soldiers were also used to achieve an objective of stealing the verdict of the people. In some key constituencies individuals who complained or tried to resist any cheating were themselves the victims of police or army brutalities. They were beaten, arrested, shot at or even killed! This happened in Techiman South, Zabzugu, Odododiodio Essikado-Ketan just to mention a few. On the whole six people were killed in reckless shooting and in utter disregard for the life of the ordinary Ghanaian to achieve a political end. Nothing short of an investigation to unearth the perpetrators and punish them will satisfy the public and our quest for social justice.
How this Played out in Parliament
At the heat of the protest of the NDC and insistence on the right thing to be done to ensure a smooth voting I sighted the immediate former NPP Ministers of Defense, Interior, and a Deputy Chief of Staff, and a deputy Minister of Agric ordering an army into the chamber. I protested and told them it was wrong. My protest was brushed aside and the soldiers moved into the chamber, fierce looking and armed with Ak 47 riffles. This was terrible sight to behold. Men in boots wielding guns going into the chamber of Parliament when proceedings, no matter how chaotic, was going on? Those individuals I called former Ministers perhaps forgot that at the stroke of midnight of that 6th January they were no longer office holders. Maybe they also forgot that the Chamber was not just an ordinary polling station and that these men were straws and not logs in a place like this where the main weapon was not the gun but the thought process. The NDC side responded with revolutionary songs. This was the lowest ebb ever of the Nana Addo’s Administration. It was a serious assault of our democracy and those who did it on his behalf must bow their heads in shame! It was the first time as far as recorded history that the military is ordered to regulate a parliamentary process since our independence.
The story didn't end there. The army are a sensible group of people. I had an opportunity to talk to one who I presumed was one of their leaders and I told him, “don’t allow yourselves to be used, these people know what to do. They are refusing to think” it was a relief when in a few minutes the army withdrew and without any counter orders filed back to whence they came from in dignified orderliness. Indeed, they saw that Parliament was not a suitable terrain to operate with guns and fury.
Another tactic used by a party that is unsure it has the vote of the people is to snatch the ballots and complicate issues. They then take the matter to court and seek declaration in the favour. This played out perfectly in Sene West Constituency when there was a ballot snatching and subsequently a request for the court to restrain the rightfully elected candidate from holding himself out as the elected representative of the people.
Stealing the Verdict Through Ballot Snatching; The case of Parliament
The situation of Sene played to near perfection in parliament except that members had no such patience to wait until and go to court after the harm has been done. At last it was nearly SIX (6) hours of back and forth and both sides of the divide, NDC and NPP now reached an agreement to vote in secrete. Apart from a few people on the NPP side who took a picture of their votes against minor disapproval from the NDC, voting went on orderly. However, we were yet to see how the biggest weapon in stealing the People's verdict was applied. To the surprise of many a ballot snatching incident occurred within the precinct of the chamber before the millions of Ghanaian television viewers. It was the most abhorred and most scandalous I had witnessed in all my days in Parliament. In the general elections thugs and willing hoodlums are used to disrupt elections at the end of the elections when voting had ended and counting of ballots is being done. As mentioned earlier, this played out in a few places especially in Sene West and in Techiman South when the NPP realised it was losing the election. Little could anyone imagine this would happen before our eyes inside the Legislature. Here the willing hoodlum was Hon Carlos Ahenkorah, MP for Tema West, a previously respectable man. Shakespeare would have loved to make a character of this sorry soul. A man who rose to the level of nobility and through his own foolish choices he fell to the level of a common thug without brains.
The Ballot paper Snatching
In Parliament when the voting was almost done with an obvious win for Hon Alban Bagbin, Carlos Ahenkorah, after a brief discussion with his leader, Hon Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, charged with the fury of a mad bull or better still with the determined charge of a lion at its helpless prey, made straight to the table where counting was going on and scooped a chunk of ballot papers and brazenly took to his heels. He was given a hot chase like a common criminal by red-eyed and no-nonsense Hon Alhaj Muntaka Mubarak, joined by Hon Yusif Suleman, MP for Bole, and three other MPs. Carlos, noticing he was being pursued ran with an extraordinary speed and gusto as fast as his legs could carry him. But how far could he go with swift Muntaka. He got Carlos by his mini-sized jalabia.
Anyway Carlos couldn't run far enough to escape to God knows where with the snatched ballots, some of which he was chewing like he was at an evening meal. Hon Muntaka. the star player in this all night drama, grabbed him, seized the ballots but not without a number of hefty blows to his empty head, persuasive enough to facilitate the retrieval of the snatched ballots in his hand, but not hard enough to retrieve what he was already chewing in his mouth.
The long and short to this movie is that the returning officer seeing all the dangers about him, could not mess up with figures and announced results requiring further adjustments. He came from the strong room after meeting with NDC and NPP leadership to announce that Hon Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin was elected Speaker of the 8th Parliament of the 4th Republic of Ghana. The attempt by the NPP leadership to now request to withdraw the candidate they proposed and voted for could not be accepted. Their earlier proposal to rerun the election because ballot chewing Carlos had chewed two of Hon Bagbin’s votes could not also be accepted.
This ended the whole drama of the fight for free and transparent choice, the fight against vexatious intimidation by state security and the determined protection of the ballot. Those areas highlighted as tactics used to hurt our democratic credentials must particularly be of interest to all and must be watched in any election in this regime and beyond. Serious crimes were committed that night and day. Our democracy and free choice which we fought for all these years have been seriously damaged but not destroyed in both the general elections and at the election of the Speaker of the 8th Parliament. All these have to be investigated with the aim of improving our systems and institutions. Every single event of that night, therefore, serves as a good lesson we can learn from. Hopefully, therefore, we will come out of this quagmire knowing each other better and polishing up the rough edges of our democratic experience.
By: Hon Rashid Pelpuo
(MP) Wa Central
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