Feature Article of Thursday, 18 October 2012
Columnist: Tawiah, Theophilus
Article 42 of the 1992 Constitution states, “every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda.’’ This right has been duly effected since the 1992 democratic dispensation in Ghana. However, citizens who live abroad have not benefited from such right except only citizens (and their spouses) employed in a post outside Ghana in the service of the Republic, the United Nations or any other international organisation who were entitled to vote outside Ghana. This was somehow extended to students studying under government scholarships. This was absolutely disproportionate which lead to the repeal of Section 8(1) of PNDCL 284, with section 1(b) of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2006 (Act 699) to allow all Ghanaians abroad eligible to vote.
Since the law was repealed, Ghanaians abroad could not exercise their franchise in the 2008 general elections on the basis that the Electoral Commission did not have adequate resources to meet these changes. The next general election is December 7, 2012 and while biometric voters’ registration was opened for Ghanaians eligible to vote to register, Ghanaians abroad were totally left out to the process. Six (6) years since the repeal was made, is it justifiable for the Electoral Commission to delay the implementation of the new law? Obviously no reason is grounded six years down the line giving the sanctity of the voting right.
Such an action from the Electoral Commission is best described as disproportionate and discriminatory. The right to vote has nothing to do with your geographical location. It is a right that cannot be persuaded by any economic arguments. Just around our borders, you will find countries that have had experience in allowing their citizens to register and vote abroad. Allowing citizens at post abroad and Ghanaians on government scholarship abroad to vote in this general election will not only be disproportionate but a slap on the rule of law. It is not only Ghanaians sent abroad at post that are of essence to the country, however, there are citizens who on their own rights gained jobs in reputable organizations that are making significant contribution to Ghana and the world at large. Would it be appropriate to discriminate against Ghanaians who are studying on scholarships from other organizations? Absolutely not! Everyone irrespective of their status should not be discriminated against in any way in respect of their right to vote.
Under the rule of law, parliament is a strong cornerstone under the constitution. The courts and governments institutions must respect and give the true meanings to the intentions of parliament as to laws. Since Section 8(1) of PNDCL 284 was discriminatory, parliament repealed it to correct it. Suspensory of the implementation of section 1(b) of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2006 (Act 699) by the Electoral Commission undermines the institution Parliament. If parliament will pass a law and an administrative body does not give credence to laws passed by it on economic grounds then there is a cause for concern. This is because not implementing the new law will mean the Electoral Commission is still giving effect to the old law.
The delay of the implementation of ROPA is not only illegal but also unconstitutional. The right to vote has been enriched in the 1992 Constitution without any qualification of such right. This suggests that it is an absolute right. Thus no argument will wash in light of the constitution. The constitution urges laws passed by parliament to be respected by all including government bodies, which in this circumstances the Electoral Commission is failing to do.
The excuses given by the Electoral Commission is untenable, governments must make sufficient allocation of its budgetary allocation to the commission. Democracy is expensive and must be practiced well. Admittedly, even though we have chalked a lot of success in this respect, more needs to be done. Often, we hear that the government has cut the Commission’s budgets expenses making it difficult to operationalize their plans.
Also, it is reported by the BBC that almost a dozen African countries including Burkina Faso, Mali and South Africa allow their citizens living abroad to cast their votes. With some of these countries close by, the Electoral Commission can learn from their successes. These countries have embassies abroad where their citizens cast their votes during elections, a system which Ghana can also adopt.
Furthermore, Ghanaians abroad must be encouraged to register with the Ghana High Commission when they first arrive in that country. The registration has been simplified to the extent that you can register by post, by downloading the forms online and attaching the necessary documents to it. Often, we do not take this registration serious thus making it difficult for the High Commissions to help or keep track of their citizens. Widening the scope for the electoral register will mean the registration will have to be taken serious to increase the sanctity of the voters’ register.
In conclusion, Act 699 has made it possible for Ghanaians abroad or home to register and vote. Any attempt by the Electoral Commission to prevent Ghanaians abroad to vote is disproportionate, discriminatory, illegal, and unconstitutional and undermines Parliament as an institution.
Ghanaians abroad should take the responsibility to ensure that the High Commissions have their relevant data.
Citizens who are dual nationals should ensure that due processes are used to ensure that both countries give effect to their nationality in accordance with the relevant laws, other than that, they may be prevented from voting.
No system at the start is perfect so the Electoral Commission should give effect to the law and learn from those who have gone ahead of us in this respect.
By: Theophilus Tawiah