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Opinions of Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Columnist: Matilda Blevi Mensah

2016 Election in Ghana – Another test for democratic consolidation


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Elections are significant in every democratic regime as it creates room for electorates to elect their representatives as well as engage in active politics.

Elections serve as a medium for testing a country’s democratic processes and how solid its democracy has become. Ghana after transiting to democratic rule in 1992 has successfully conducted six elections to the admiration of all at both local and international level.

Admittedly, the rise and fall of tensions especially in the 2012 elections with the election results being challenged in the Supreme Court could not hinder Ghana’s democracy.

Democracy has been strengthened in diverse ways and we have seen Ghana’s democracy consolidated since it has satisfied the various notions of Scholars like Andreas Schedler and Samuel Huntington.

Schedler came up with some notions to explain what democratic consolidation (DC) is. According to Schedler (1997), “any talk about democratic consolidation presupposes that a democratic regime exists from the beginning to the end of the process. Democracy is at the same time the indispensable starting point of DC (in form of a “consolidating democracy”) and its hopeful outcome (in form of a “consolidated democracy”). Basically, every assertion about democratic consolidation is built on democracy.

That is democracy is a means to achieve democratic consolidation. Democracy is characterized by values such as transparency, accountability, rule of law, respect of fundamental human rights, free press and mass media, as well as free and fair periodic elections. To acknowledge a country as having a consolidated democracy, means these values intrinsic of democracy is in full force as it is institutionalized for all to enjoy. Ghana in the past two decades has exhibited a strong democratic force where authoritarian regimes have been put to null.

Andreas Schedler (1997) in his publication on “Concepts of Democratic Consolidation” outlined five notions of DC: avoiding democratic breakdown, avoiding democratic erosion, institutionalizing democracy, completing democracy and deepening democracy. This article seeks to examine Ghana’s democratic consolidation and whether the outcome of the 2016 elections will prove that Ghana’s democracy is consolidated or it is just surviving.

Schedler wrote “once a transition from authoritarian rule in a given country has reached a point where (more or less) free, (more or less) fair, and (more or less) competitive elections are held, democratic actors often cannot afford to lean back, relax, and enjoy the “bounded uncertainty” of democratic rule”.

In relation to this, periodic elections held in Ghana have been a yardstick to measure the degree of Ghana’s democratic consolidation.

From a period of political upheavals and authoritarian regimes to the breaking of a new dawn on January 7, 1993 when the fourth Republic was inaugurated , Ghana entered into its lime light as a beacon of hope to if not all but many countries especially in Sub Saharan Africa.

Significantly, Ghana experienced what I term “the Strengthening of Democracy” after the ruling government led by Jerry Rawlings peacefully handed over power to the opposition New Patriotic Party who had been elected into office.

On January 7, 2001 President Kufour took the oath of office as President of Ghana and after his re-election in December 2004 for a second tenure in office.

Consequently, by the end of the year 2008, Ghana had had two governments in power from different political parties.

The 2008 elections also gave room for the opposition party to be elected with Evans Atta Mills as President and his Vice took over after his demise. Ghanaians went to the polls in 2012 after a keenly contested election between the two major political parties; National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

For this reason Ghana has passed the notion of the two turn-over test propounded by Huntington. (Democracy’s Third Wave)

As Schedler (1997) wrote, DC of a country connotes the avoidance of erosion of democracy. By implication, there must be no military supremacy rather the State must have autonomy. It also meant the absence of state violence; the existence of a multi-party system to promote political competition; independent electoral institutions to ensure a transparent election outcome, active civic inclusion and participation.

Ghana’s democracy is said to be consolidated as it has satisfied (more or less) the notions outlined by the Schedler (1997). One can admit that Ghana’s elections have been a competitive one with relentless efforts put in place by democratic actors; Electorates, Politicians, Media, Security Service and the Electoral Commission to make it a free and fair one in order to avoid the breakdown of democracy.

Over the years, Ghana has shown significant growth in her capacity to institutionalize democracy, particularly during election periods. The various stakeholders of elections; Media, Electorate, Security Agency, EC and Political Parties have been educated in diverse ways.

The media has been educated on the need for them to give equal coverage to all political parties and be circumspect, fair and honest in their reportage. Electorates have come to embrace democracy as the best form of government Ghana has ever experienced and in their capacity ensure that they safeguard it.

Civic participation at the grassroots has increased considerably with many citizens engaging in debate and dissent on every day phenomenon affecting the country. Political Party support by party faithful have boosted exceedingly.

Year by year, citizens openly declare their support for the political party and candidate of their choice. The security agencies in Ghana have been equipped on how to combat electoral tensions and ensure the protection of lives before, during and after the elections.

Electoral Commission of Ghana as the main election organizers have improved in their operations with much emphasize on ensuring that each election goes on smoothly and fairly. Political Parties and Politicians in past years have an obligation to conduct themselves in a manner which will not disrupt peace in Ghana. Campaign messages have noticeably been issue based rather than character assassination and politics of insults.

Nevertheless, there have been challenges in the midst of all the efforts put in place to ensure that elections are conducted to safeguard the already existing democracy. Politics of insults coupled with ethnic based politics rather than issue based politics is sometimes seen. The Media and EC face challenges of independence.

They are supposed to be independent bodies in order to be fair in their dealings yet the media tend to be bias and the EC faces challenges of manipulation which hinders them in the course of discharging their duties.

Another election year is here and plans are underway for eligible electorates to exercise their franchise. Democracy as it has been began needs to go on and even be solidified such that, nothing can tamper with it. It is in view of this that the 2016 elections in Ghana at the end of the day must come to confirm that Ghana is indeed consolidated or is just trying to find its way through. For this to happen certain measures must be put in place;

Independence, fairness and diligence of the Electoral Commission and Media – these two bodies are primarily a key determinant of another peaceful election. The EC must stand out and refrain from all forms of manipulation and external influences from any group or party.

Together with the National Media Commission can embark on seminars to educate the public and all electorates on their roles to play to ensure the 2016 will be as fair and peaceful as ever.

The transparency of the EC must not be undermined especially in a year like this which will determine whether the NDC will serve continuously for three successive times, the NPP will bounce back after being in opposition for a while now or a new party or candidate altogether will take over.

The media must circulate just the truth and help educate the electorate on how to conduct themselves.

The role of the media must be performed without fear or control from any political party. They must understand they play an essential role with the kind of information they circulate and feed their listeners with.
Politicians must be cautious especially during campaigning.

Campaign messages should be geared towards nation building and addressing of pressing issues facing the country rather than using rabble-rousing means to provoke the anger of their opponents. The choice of the people is ultimate since that is the essence of democracy.

This choice must be respected by the politician. Election outcomes must be accepted as declared by the EC and may otherwise challenge in Court if it does not go down well with them rather than calling party faithful to engage in protests which might raise tensions high.

Electorates and Security Agencies must endeavor to uphold and defend the peace of the nation respectively.

Electorates and citizens in general must adhere to the electoral rules and not instigate any form of conflict. Healthy debates must be carried out and the various security agencies must consider the nation first above any political party.

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