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Diasporian News of Thursday, 1 May 2008

Source: GNA

ROPAL will not apply in December vote

Accra, May 1, GNA - The Representation of Peoples Amendment Law (ROPAL), which empowers Ghanaians residents abroad to vote in elections, will not apply in Election 2008, Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, Chairman of the Electoral Commission, said on Wednesday.

The EC Chairman said the nation had not yet prepared adequately to apply the law for the up-coming elections.

"At this stage of our preparation, ROPAL cannot be used in the 2008 elections," Dr. Afari-Gyan said in Accra in response to a question after delivering a lecture to kick-start the celebration of World Press Freedom Day, which falls on May 3.

Dr. Afari-Gyan said the law, which generated a lot of heat and controversy between the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), was not the brain child of the NPP, but had been initially introduced when the NDC was in power. "The voting rights of citizens abroad became an issue a long time ago during the NDC; at that time the NPP sang "over our dead body; now NPP says ROPAL is the best policy and the NDC sings over our dead body," Dr. Afari-Gyan said.

He said at present the issue was enough preparation to register Ghanaians in the embassies abroad simultaneously with the registration exercise at home and how ready the embassies were for that job. Dr. Afari-Gyan said the EC would need a budget of GH¢ 41 million to run the 2008 elections.

In his lecture tilted; "Press Freedom, Empowerment and Participation of the People in the Electoral Process," Dr Afari-Djan, urged journalists to galvanise the interest of the people in the up-coming general elections.

He said the poll was the only voice of most of the people in national affairs.

"This is a compelling reason to encourage and assist the people to participate in elections." Dr Afari-Djan defined press freedom as "the existence of conditions for journalists to practice their profession freely to such an extent that, within the law, every media establishment is free to determine the content of what it prints, broadcasts or telecasts". He said such an environment could exist only if the government or some other authority did not control access to and the contents of the media, and if journalists had reasonable access to the information they needed for their work. However, he said, press freedom required journalists to uphold the highest professional and ethical standards, to disseminate accurate information about matters of public importance and to refrain from inciting violence, setting one party or candidate or religious group or region against another.

Dr. Afari-Djan said authority to govern was derived from the will of the people demonstrated through election on the basis of the universal adult suffrage, exercised by means of a secret ballot. He said empowerment for participation in the electoral process began with knowing one's electoral rights and a certain amount of activism to achieve the rights.

"In this regard, in addition to people's own efforts, the media must defend their electoral rights against abuse by politicians. It must monitor the extent to which the generality of the people enjoy their rights by exposing, condemning and shaming acts of violence, intimidation, and bribery."

The EC Chairman observed that electoral reporting presented challenges of seeking adequate and right knowledge, the need for balance and being analytical in election reporting.

However, the tendency of officials of an incumbent government to turn state or government functions into election campaigns, and the tendency to induce journalists to give complimentary coverage in return for favours are two potential obstacles to achieving balance. Dr. Afari-Djan said the press should constantly urge qualified persons to seize the opportunity to register, give assurance to the electorate that they could vote in secrecy in accordance with their conscience, and that each valid vote would be counted as cast. He said the press could also package specially crafted public messages to elicit maximum voter turnout.

Dr. Afari-Djan said media empowerment of the people must translate into giving them education and information about politics and the electoral process designed to elicit maximum turnout at the poll by an electorate who made informed choices at the ballot box. He said civil society could play a role similar to that of the press by getting the substantive concerns of the society to the forefront of the political debate through discussions and seminars and by defending the rights of the people.

Dr. Afari-Djan also observed that credible electoral systems and processes, well-behaved stakeholders and an atmosphere of general peace in which people could freely go about their legitimate political activities were also needed to empower the people to participate in an electoral process. 1 May 08