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General News of Saturday, 15 February 2003

Source: GNA

Ghanaians abroad are eligible to vote - EC

Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC) on Thursday debunked the general notion that Ghanaians abroad are ineligible to vote in national elections, saying "the current electoral law permits certain category of Ghanaians living abroad to register and vote.

"Persons who work in our diplomatic missions, and international organisations of which Ghana is a member, their spouses, students on government scholarship and members of the Army and Police on peacekeeping duties are eligible to vote," he emphasised in Accra.

Dr Afari-Gyan was speaking at a roundtable discussion organised by the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and sponsored by Friedrich Naumann Foundation under the theme: "Preparations towards election 2004: Prospects and Challenges."

Politicians, Electoral Officials, Media Practitioners and other stakeholders in Ghana's electoral process including the donor community attended the roundtable discussion.

The EC Chairman said "these persons are registered through the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the appropriate military or police authority to vote either in person in Ghana or by proxy."

He said the difficulty and controversy was with other Ghanaians who fell outside the above categories.

To enable these Ghanaians to vote would involve the elimination of legal and administrative technicalities.

Dr Afari-Gyan said the legal technicalities involved the amendment of sections of the representation of the People Law that precluded the registration of Ghanaians, who have been away from their place of residence in Ghana for a continuous period of six months.

He said if the amendment were effected the EC would take the necessary steps to incorporate all Ghanaians living abroad into the election process.

Once the restrictions are removed, the law allows the Commission to appoint the head of Ghana Mission or Embassy abroad as a registration officer, and give appropriate instructions for the purpose of registering voters.

Dr Afari-Gyan said the state must also address the practical administrative issue of determining the category of elections that citizen living abroad could participate in - presidential, parliamentary or district level.

He said a survey of 97 countries conducted by the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) on how countries treat their citizens living abroad in relation to their elections indicates that 48 countries did not allow them to register and vote.

Thirty countries allowed them to register and vote in only presidential and parliamentary elections.

The EC Chairman said apart from the most developed democracies, the rest of the 30 countries in this category had proportional representation systems- voters were required to vote for political parties and not for candidates of specific constituencies.

Dr Afari-Gyan said the survey also indicated that 12 other countries allowed their citizen living abroad to vote only in presidential elections whilst seven countries including Ghana allowed only a category of citizen to register and vote.

He said other practical administrative difficulties also included mode of voting, either by proxy, mail or at an embassy.

He said voting by proxy might not be viable option if all Ghanaian citizens living abroad were to vote. It would be extremely difficult and cumbersome to process a huge number of applicants to vote by proxy.

Voting by mails on the other hand involves a complex and costly administrative process of having to send ballots to the residential addresses of voters abroad. It required an elaborate system of tracking the ballots and "is easily subject to abuse as one is never sure who really cast the ballot," the EC Chairman explained.

He said the third option of voting at an embassy, which is used by most developing countries as the most practical and cost-effective way of allowing citizens abroad to vote has also been vehemently disapproved of by opposition parties in the past especially the New Patriotic Party in Ghana.

He said with the change of fortune of the main parties "it would be interesting how the two parties would consider this option."

Dr Afari-Gyan suggested that for the purpose of incorporating all Ghanaian citizens living abroad into the electoral system, Ghana should adopt the voting at embassies/consulates and allow citizens to vote only in the presidential elections.