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Feature Article of Saturday, 1 December 2012

Columnist: Otchere-Darko, Gabby Asare

Vigilance Is The Motto For December 7

By: Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko

Next week Ghanaians will go to the polls to choose who they want to lead them for the next four years. The patriotic call to all communities across the country is simply this: Take it upon yourself, peacefully and legitimately, to protect your ballot, to protect your mandate, to protect your democracy, and to protect your nation. We of the Danquah Institute would be remiss if we claimed not to share the same concern about the politics in Ghana becoming as divisive as they have been over the last several months. However, the Danquah Institute stands together with those tirelessly working to maintain peace and ensure that Ghana remains a free and fair democracy.

No matter the outcome calm must prevail and we must return to living our lives in peace with each other. NDC, under Jerry John Rawlings, with the late John Evans Atta-Mills as its Presidential Candidate, did well to the admiration of all to accept defeat and hand over peacefully in 2000. The NPP also has an admirable history of not just committing to peace with words, but also with actions, even when their opponent win with a razor thin margin as occurred in December 2008. So, in Akufo-Addo and the NPP, Ghanaians have a track record from which to draw considerable comfort. Can we say the same would happen if John Mahama or the NDC were to lose next week? Their record speaks for itself and all Ghanaians must not tolerate any kind of impropriety, unfairness, or cheating in this election. We are a democracy and the people must be allowed to speak without threat of violence or danger. Should any of these issues arise on Election Day, whoever is in power must prosecute the offenders with equal application of the law, no matter what party they support. Violence and unequal application of the law cannot be tolerated in a free society.

Ghana has built a reputation as an example for peace on the African continent, thanks in large part to the hard work the NPP has done. This not only enhancing the quality of life for Ghanaians but it enhances our security and our economy. Even the mere suspicion of impropriety in our election next week would undo all of this progress we have made as a nation.

Nana Akufo-Addo addressed all of these things in his address at Institute of Democratic Governance event in Kumasi this week. Criticism immediately followed, suggesting that Nana’s mention of the President’s record in the by-elections was out-of-place at what was intended to be a national peace rally and coming together in a positive spirit.

But the stakes are too high to remain silent, and Nana did right by his own supporters, and in fact by all Ghanaians by challenging President Mahama to back his rhetoric with real action.

We have come very far as a nation and are regarded as a jewel on the African continent for the sustained progress we have made over the past 2 decades. The election of 2008 proved this, when Nana Akufo-Addo, the Presidential Candidate of the NPP, conceded immediately after losing by the slimmest of margins. For him, and for his party, protecting the peace and the sanctity of our democratic institutions was important than gaining access to power.

Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about the ruling party today, in 2012. President Mahama specifically has not matched his sweet words on the topic of peaceful elections with real and tangible deeds. The ruling NDC faction instead has given Ghanaians plenty of reasons to question their attitude towards the fundamental building block of our nation: peace.

There have been several incidents wherein the NDC government, during elections in three constituencies since they have been in power, refused to investigate, condemn, acknowledge, or even express sympathy for acts of violence by NDC activists upon NPP supporters. These incidents, needless to repeat the details of, were witnessed by police and caught on video, but yet even today there is no substantial action from the NDC government, let alone the President himself. Simply put, the rule of law has not been allowed to work in these instances. While we may naturally have a difference of opinion on issues as members of rival political parties, we are still all Ghanaians and we should treat each other with dignity and respect, without regard to political affiliation. Partisanship and justice are not ideals that belong together, but the NDC seems to believe they do.

While servicing as Vice President, John Mahama was Chairman of the National Police Council, where he did nothing to condemn or even show disapproval of these incidents. It is blatantly unacceptable for an elected official holding high office to tacitly endorse violence in the name of political ambition. This trend of inaction continues to this day as he sits in the office of President and has continued this culture of validating political violence. As the saying goes: silence is approval.

The reality is this. Unlike Nana Akufo-Addo, John Mahama has no track record of adopting the gentlemanly course of gracefully accepting defeat after losing an election, simply because he has never tasted defeat at the highest level of political competition where the stakes are most high. Given his recent implied complicity with the aggression upon his fellow Ghanaians, how can we trust that John Mahama’s rhetoric calling for peace will match his action when the votes are tallied and he comes up short? The record so far shows that he and his government are unable to carry out their duties as elected officials in a professional and nonpartisan manner. We cannot afford a ruling party whose key leaders stick their heads in the sand or look the other way while others are brutalized by violent supporters of his own party.

In a democracy - a constitutional republic like Ghana, voters go to the polls to choose leaders who will make decisions that impact their lives. But if those leaders have not demonstrated that they will compete fairly, and have not sufficiently demonstrated a commitment to peaceful, free and fair elections, then the rest of the discussion on the issues is moot. What good will it do to discuss which candidate is more passionate about free SHS, which candidate will restore an NHIS on the verge of collapse, or which candidate will transform Ghana’s economy into a modern, industrialised one if the election will be marred by violence on the part of those so desperate to cling to power that they will even provoke violence to achieve their selfish goals? I applaud Nana Akufo-Addo for holding John Mahama’s feet to the fire. Leadership is about accountability

So let us go and vote, and may the best man win. But let all Ghanaians be mindful: vigilance is the price of freedom, and vigilance is the NPP motto for December 7. Let vigilance be the motto for all well-meaning Ghanaians on December 7. If that happens, we are guaranteed a peaceful, free and fair election because the sum total of well-meaning Ghanaians far outnumber that of the rest.

The author is the Executive Director of the Danquah Institute.

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