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Diasporian News of Wednesday, 10 March 2004

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Ghanaians Abroad To Vote ?

Parliament is racing against time to amend a law that will allow Ghanaians living abroad to vote. The House has only three days before it goes on recess on Friday. Meanwhile the Amendment to the Representation of the People Law has been criticised by the minority NDC in Parliament citing the logistical constraints of the EC ahead of the December Polls.

The bill is coming at a time when the EC is already saddled with the task of compiling a new voters? register to replace the old one used in the 2000 elections.

Even the replacement exercise has its own peculiar problems. The Electoral Commission has only 3000 cameras for the registration exercise covering over 20,000 polling stations. Under the electoral law the EC is to register eligible Ghanaians resident in Ghana as well as those working with Ghana missions and other international organisations outside the country.

The law does not cover ordinary Ghanaians residing outside the country. This is what the government wants to amend to allow Ghanaians living abroad to cast their votes in the elections. The minister of justice and attorney general, Papa Owusu Ankomah defended government?s decision to push the amendment bill through despite the limited time at the disposal of Parliament.

There are no reliable official figures for Ghanaians living abroad. It is estimated that over a million and a half Ghanaians live outside the country. The problem, however, is not the numbers but their geographical location. Clearly it would be a Herculean task for the EC to set up polling centres across Africa, Europe, America and Asia for Ghanaians to register and vote in the elections.

Interestingly, the electoral commission was not even aware of government?s move to amend the law.

Mr. Henry Okine, Director of Public Affairs at the Electoral Commission says it that it would be a difficult exercise for the EC to undertake if the law is amended. He said there are so many issues that must be considered like the number of Ghanaians leaving abroad, the logistics problems and others before taking a decision to register eligible Ghanaians living abroad.

He is of the view that the under the circumstances, Ghanaians abroad could only become eligible to vote at their bases for the 2004 general election
Parliament is debating this amendment proposal today. Assuming it is not passed are we disenfranchising those eligible Ghanaians who would have loved to exercise their civic rights.
Attorney General Papa Owusu Ankomah says the amendment is necessary to give meaning to the electoral laws of Ghana, which stipulates that, any Ghanaian of sound mind and aged 18 is eligible to vote.