Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ghana's 2008 Elections

Rainbow coalition it was. Fifty-eight people from 17 countries mobilised by The Carter Centre to observe Ghana’s December 28 run-off election. It was a privilege to be among those invited by TCC to participate in the democratic exercise. Prior to being invited, I had followed the 2008 Ghana elections with keen interest. It was soul-lifting that positive news was coming from the former Gold Coast after the December 7, 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections. However, as the saying goes, seeing is believing. Thus, when the invitation came from TCC, I couldn’t resist even as it was going to cost me the ritual of celebrating Christmas with my family in Nigeria.
Ghana, a country of 20 million people with 10 administrative regions and 230 electoral constituencies shares a common history with Nigeria. Apart from being a former British colony, the country also had its fair share of military rule. Ghana currently operates 1992 Constitution and the Electoral Commission of Ghana had just concluded its fifth election under the leadership of Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan. Under Section 44 (2) of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution, the chairperson of the electoral commission is appointed on similar condition as a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
My overall impression of the 2008 Ghana Presidential election run-off is positive. Ghana is a country where there is electoral democracy in truth and indeed. It is a country where people’s votes count and where patriotism runs in the veins of the citizen. The country has high level of political consciousness. In Ghana, there is no grant given to political parties. They source their money internally without limit, while foreign donation is barred.
According to Section 55 (15) of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution, only a citizen of Ghana may make a contribution or donation to a political party registered in Ghana. What, however, is doubtful is whether there is strict enforce-ment of this clause. Party members in Ghana buy party souvenirs. I saw many of them with their party flags, mufflers, handkerchiefs, etc. The parties in turn provide free transport service to members who may wish to travel to where they registered to vote.
Even though there are 16 registered political parties in Ghana as at September 2008, with provision for independent candidacy, only two of them can be said to be heavyweight. They are the New Patriotic Party, which is the ousted party; and the National Democratic Congress, which is the party of the new president, Prof. John Evans Atta Mills.
From January 7, 1993 to January 7, 2001, NDC ruled Ghana under J.J. Rawlings. In the December 2000 polls, NDC lost power to NPP and again lost at the elections in 2004. Now, history has repeated itself, like it happened in 2000, so it did in the 2008 elections. NDC, which had been in opposition for eight years has been able to wrestle power from the ruling NPP.
There is no gainsaying that there were unconfirmed allegations of the ruling NPP using coercive state resources like the Police and the military to harass NDC supporters. However, if this was done, it was in isolation and not widespread. That the NPP lost both the December 7 and 28, 2008 elections by a narrow margin says a lot about the political sophistication of Ghana’s electoral system. Even though the Electoral Commission of Ghana does not carry a tag of ‘independence’ as we have in Nigeria, it nonetheless was able to act professionally and discharge its duties creditably to the admiration of Ghanaians and international and local election observers.
Under the Ghana electoral system, there is provision for voting by proxy and special or early voting. While voting by proxy allows a person to vote on behalf of another person, special voting is meant for electoral officials, media practitioners and members of the Armed Forces who are likely to be on special duty on the election day. Special voting for the 2008 elections took place on December 2 for the first ballot, and on December 23 for the run-off presidential election.
In Ghana, the secrecy of balloting is ensured by the provision of a collapsible paper cubicle erected for voters to thumbprint in before casting their ballot. There is proper demarcation of the voting area and dipping of the forefinger of voters in indelible ink to prevent multiple voting. There is also tracking of the gender of the voter by the polling officials.
Again, party agents and the electoral commission are allowed to put their seal on the transparent ballot box and record the serial numbers both before the commencement of the polls and after counting of ballot. Record cards are provided for party agents to document all the details of the elections in their booths including tracking of the number of voters in their polling stations. Party agents were also given complaint forms to document any irregularities observed in their polling booths.
Religion took a back seat in Ghana elections. Both the December 7 and 28 elections took place on a Sunday, yet Christian leaders, rather than complain, shifted their service to Saturday to allow their congregation full participation at the poll. In fact, the religious groups were part of the 4,000 Coalition of Domestic Election Observers in Ghana.
The little minuses of the Ghana 2008 election is the bloated voter register, which a source put at a staggering 1.8 million. Also problematic was the party nomination process, which we were informed was very rancorous in both NPP and NDC. In fact, in Bekwai constituency where I observed the December 28 presidential run-off, some of the party loyalists decamped to stand for election as independent candidates and won. This was said to have affected the electoral fortunes of NPP in the ’08 elections.
Time has come for our election managers in Nigeria to learn from Ghana’s success stories. The process of election is as important as the outcome; and that is the main lesson of Ghana 2008 elections.