Diasporian News of Wednesday, 22 June 2005
The Attorney-General?s Department has laid before Parliament a bill that seeks to enable all eligible Ghanaians living abroad to register and vote in a general election.
The memorandum accompanying the Representation of the People (Amendment Bill) has since been referred to the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs of the House for deliberations.
The bill will replace Section 8 of the Representation of the People Law, 1992 (PNDCL 284) which gave only a special category of Ghanaians resident abroad the right to vote.
The memorandum, signed by Mr J. Ayikoi-Otoo, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, is dated April 19, 2005 and its date of gazette notification is May 20, 2005.
Section 8 of PNDCL 284 provides that citizens employed in the service of the Republic or in the service of the United Nations or any other international organisation can register to vote if they satisfy the requirements for registration.
The amendment bill, however, seeks to replace that section and allow all Ghanaians resident abroad to register and vote so far as they meet the electoral requirements of the EC.
The bill, therefore, states that ?a person who is a citizen of Ghana resident outside the Republic is entitled to be registered as a voter if the person satisfies the requirements for registration prescribed by law other than those relating to residence in a polling division?.
According to the bill, the EC may appoint the head of a Ghana mission or embassy abroad or any other person or institution designated in writing by the EC as a registration officer to register a person to be a voter for an election.
?The commission may give such directions as it considers appropriate to a person appointed as a registration officer,? the bill said.
The memorandum stated that ?the right to vote in an election is an entrenched provision of the Constitution?.
It said Article 42 of the Constitution empowered every citizen of Ghana of 18 years of age or above and of sound mind to register as a voter and vote in public elections and referenda, adding, ?This right is not restricted to citizens resident in the country because the reference is to a citizen, without qualification.?
?Furthermore, Section 2 (1) of the Political Parties Act, 2002 (Act 574) provides that every citizen of voting age has the right to participate in political activity intended to influence the composition and policies of government, the least of this participation is the right to vote,? the memorandum pointed out.
The memorandum further stated that the EC was mandated by Article 45 of the Constitution to, among other things, compile the register of voters.
That legal framework, according to the memorandum, did not prevent the registration of Ghanaians resident abroad for voting purposes, neither did it disenfranchise Ghanaians abroad. The Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs of Parliament, Mr Kwame Osei-Prempeh, in an interview, said the committee would soon organise a series of forums to solicit public views on the amendment bill.
The forums, which will be organised in Accra, Kumasi, Tamale and Sekondi-Takoradi, will educate the public on the details of the amended bill before it is passed into law.
He explained that the bill, when passed into law, would come into force on a date to be determined by the Electoral Commission (EC) in a Constitutional Instrument issued under the hand of the chairman of the commission.
Mr Osei-Prempeh said the decision was arrived at following the referral of a memorandum on the bill to his committee last Tuesday, as well as the sensitive nature of the bill and the level of interest it was expected to generate among the public.
He said a meeting was scheduled to take place today (Wednesday) on the modalities for the organisation of the public forums.
?We want the public to make an input before it is passed into law,? Mr Osei-Prempeh stated.
According to him, the bill was long overdue because in every democratic dispensation, ?being outside your home country should not be a factor to disenfranchise you?.
The chairman explained that the EC would give the parameters on the mechanisms to be adopted for voting.
The bill, which was laid before Parliament in June last year under a certificate of urgency, had to be withdrawn because a section of the public felt it was not necessary at the time.
Story By Mabel Aku Baneseh