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Politics of Saturday, 28 September 2013

Source: Daily Graphic

'Set up Constitutional Court on election disputes'

Panellists at a symposium on the election petition have suggested the establishment of a constitutional court to adjudicate expeditiously election disputes in the country.

The panellists at a symposium in Accra on the recent decision of the Supreme Court on the 2012 election petition were of the view that a constitutional court could have dealt with the petition faster, as they would have had specialised knowledge on election matters.

The speakers at the symposium included Mr Sam Okudzeto, a renowned lawyer and former President of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Prof. Kwame Frimpong, founding Dean and Professor of Law of GIMPA Law School, Mr Kissi Agyabeng, senior law lecturer of the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana , Mr John Attafuah, a lawyer, and Dr Maurice Ampaw, a lawyer and President of the Legal Advisory Foundation, who acted as the moderator.

The workshop, organised by the Danquah Institute (DI) at the National Theatre in Accra, provided a platform for jurists and legal and statistical experts to critique the judgement of the Supreme Court in the presidential election petition filed by Nana Akufo-Addo and two others against the election of President John Mahama in the December 2012 presidential polls.

The symposium was on the theme: “Reviewing the Supreme Court’s judgement in Akufo-Addo vs John Mahama.” All parties involved in the petition (petitioners and respondents) were invited to this event.

The panel members explained that the Supreme Court had a broader mandate which would not allow them to focus on election matters as the proposed constitutional court would do.

They were also of the view that since it would be a constitutional court, it would take violations of regulations governing elections more serious.

They explained that by sanctioning people who broke election regulations, the court would help instil discipline in the electoral systems and help increase public faith in elections.

Mr Sam Okudzeto said the review of the Supreme Court’s decision should not be seen as an exercise in futility, but rather as a means of opening oneself to education .

He said the use of “shall” in the constitution was mandatory because the framers of the constitution took past history of vote rigging into account.

Mr Okudzeto said the judges, therefore, should have interpreted the “shall” as it was in the constitution.

He said the framers were relying on election officers to do the right things to make the elections acceptable and credible, hence their use of the mandatory words to compel election officers to do their homework well to ensure free and fair election .

He explained that the interpretation of the word “shall” was, therefore, inconsistent with discretionary power which the constitution also confered on some people in the discharge of their duties.

Mr Okudzeto said the refusal of the Supreme Court also to allow the New Patriotic Party to make their presentation with a power point made the understanding of the figures and statistics more difficult.

He observed that the petitioners could have insisted on power point presentation since it was through power point presentation that figures could be understood well enough.

Prof. Frimpong said the current judgement by the Supreme Court was sending the wrong message that “the end justifies the means” and that was not good enough for future elections in the country.

He explained that when electorates are emboldened by this policy of the end justifies the means, the culture of impunity would be on the rise.

He said the Supreme Court could have taken a firm decision against violations of the election regulations instead of endorsing them to send the signals that the constitution took precedence over statutory provisions.

He said the judges, by relying so heavily on the role of polling agents’ signatures than on presiding officers’ signatures to arrive at their decision was a violation of the constitution.

He explained that presiding officers’ signatures were a mandatory requirement as against party polling agents whose signatures were not mandatory.

He said the judgment had, therefore, disappointed a section of Ghanaians whose desire was to see the Supreme Court come out with a credible judgment that would: “give life in terms of advancing democracy instead of kill democracy.”

Mr Kissi Agyabeng said the Supreme Court ought to have shown more fidelity to the electoral systems and the constitution, instead of the voters.

He said the right to vote could not stand in a standardless form, but moved with a qualification such as registration and biometric verification, which ought to be done first before a voter could cast a vote.

Mr Agyabeng said to allow some to vote by verification while others voted without it meant some votes were more important than others which ought not be so.

Mr Gabby Otchere Darko, Executive Director of DI, organisers of the symposium, called for enactment of legislation to formalise the role of the Inter Party Advisory Committee(IPAC) played in elections.

The strengthening of IPAC will not infringe on the Independence of the Electoral Commission, Mr Otchere-Darko said.

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