Feature Article of Friday, 1 December 2000
Columnist: Maxwell Oteng
By any stretch of imagination, if the Presidential Runoff (PR) slated for December 28 were to be scripted for a movie, it would not be difficult to assume that its screenwriters would have thought along the lines of the latest comedic tour de force of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", staring Jim Carey, the internationally magnified equivalent of Ghanaian comedians, Super O.D and Nkomode combined. Maybe this is an exaggeration, but never mind! In such a movie, though, Dr. Afari's Electoral Commission would play the leading role of Grinch, even though the moral import of their messages would be entirely different: one, to restore Christmas to its original meaning and the other, to sustain Government in its democratic meaning. However, their modus operandi is monoclinal, both are intent on being killjoys in a season supposed to be merry. For those who may be in some cultural cul-de-sac, "Grinch" is a fairly straightforward adaptation of Dr. Seuss' 1957 book, a message about tolerance for those who are different, the real meaning of Christmas and the temptations of commercializing the holiday beyond recognition. The gist of the tale is this: the Grinch, who was once a "Who", became enraged with his fellow "Whos" and fled into a cave in the mountains when he was still young. There, he grows embittered, saving his real hate for Christmas, the biggest day of the year in Whoville, when everyone buys and buys, bakes and bakes, then buys and buys some more. Over the years, his only companion has been his Max, his faithful, shaggy dog, and his greatest dream has been to ruin the day of days for all of the rosy-cheeked, gift-obsessed and maniacally caroling residents of Whoville. He has a plan, which hardly needs elaborating here.
I have no doubt at all that for most city-dwellers determined to fulfill the annual ritual of going back to the village to be with family and friends - some of them having been "missing in action" for a long time - setting the presidential runoff on December 28 is a kind of anticipatory grief for its inconveniencing effect of having to cut short the annual be-with-my-folks vacation in order to exercise one's civic and constitutional obligation of voting.
For some reason, the more I think about December 28, the more it makes me feel un-moored and irrationally fearful. But are there any justifications for my concern? Maybe or maybe not. I'm am deeply concerned about the potential disenfranchisement of a significant number of registered city-dwelling voters that may choose to place a higher premium on the seasonal back-to-the-village visits than on voting to decide the next president of the country.
Given the importance of the Christmas-New Year Season in the socio-cultural portfolio of [perhaps] the vast majority of Ghanaians, one has to wonder why and how the decision matrix came to be dominated by political factors. Couldn't the main actors involved in this electoral drama - namely the Government, the Electoral Commission, the National Democratic Party and the national Patriotic Party and their respective leaders and of course the good people of Ghana - strike a comprise that would have made it possible for the traveling voting public to exercise their constitutional obligation while at the same time fulfilling their annual ritual of going back home to familiarize with loved ones and friends?
Didn't the Electoral Commission [and for that matter the Government] anticipate the possibility of a runoff in its calculations? If it did, why couldn't or didn't the EC factor in the potential effect of Christmas and New Year on a potential runoff? And if it did, why does the Electoral Commission seem to face logistic and monetary nightmares? Shouldn't the money for a potential runoff have been raised and been ready long before the general elections even started?
While the EC must be commended for doing a yeoman's job, it seems to me that there a number of lessons that can be learned from the recent elections. First of all, I think the EC must anticipate potential runoff in every election and thus plan towards it accordingly in terms of [material and monetary] logistics. Second, we must try to fix our presidential and parliamentary dates in the month of November so that in the case of a runoff we don't spoil some people's seasonal festivities and fraternities. In the light of this I would like to suggest that we permanently schedule these elections for the LAST FRIDAY in the November of the election year. This ensures that a runoff can be held at most by December 21 - well before people embark on their seasonal travels.