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General News of Monday, 27 November 2000

Source: Accra Mail

Rigging Not Possible - Says Judge, Lawyer Disagrees

An Appeal Court judge, Mr. Justice Dickson Kwame Afreh, has given Ghanaians the assurance that given the measures adopted by the Electoral Commission for next week's presidential and parliamentary polls, it would be difficult, if not impossible for anyone to rig the elections.

"Some of the fears expressed about rigging are exaggerated; writers need to allay such pessimism through their articles. The rules are clear and transparent to have an honest voting system," he told journalists last Thursday, exactly two weeks to the polls. Mr. Afreh was opening the last in the series of seminars on "Peaceful, Free and Fair Elections" organised by PEN International for journalists in Accra at the Bayview Hotel. Such an assurance coming from the lips of a highly respected judge like Justice Afreh, himself a one-time Deputy Electoral Commissioner, at a time when the Electoral Commission is struggling with a credibility crisis must give the Commission a much-needed confidence booster.

He said if the procedures spelt out in the voting guidelines are followed, he saw no reason why Ghana would not have free and fair polls for which every Ghanaian would be proud. He was full of praise for Ghana's electoral traditions, even cracking a joke that the Americans would have to learn from us!

Mr. Justice Afreh, displaying his trademark style of explaining the law, placed a heavy burden of responsibility on political party activists. He said thugs hired for political violence must be aware of the legal implications of their actions, for once in the grips of the law, not even their mentors can have any influence over the case when arraigned before court.

"If you commit murder in electoral violence, you are liable to be charged with murder under the law. You expose yourself to unnecessary risk because the people you support cannot be around to sympathise with you when you are brought before the courts." Such criminals, he said, when found guilty could even face the death penalty.

Turning on the media, he said though it would not be right for practitioners to condone crime and irregularities, they should also be sympathetic to the Electoral Commission, with its myriad of problems instead of undermining its credibility with too many negative reports.

The judge's presentation was most optimistic as he effortlessly infected his audience with his optimism and confidence about the outcome of the polls.

Mr. Akoto Ampaw, a private legal practitioner, who delivered a paper on The Press and the Law, however did not sound as optimistic as the judge and entreated media practitioners to assert their role in exposing electoral fraud and malpractice.

"These offences," he said, "do not occur only on Election Day since rigging can take place long before Election Day."

He said it is the responsibility of the media to mount pressure on responsible pubic institutions to ensure enforcement of the laws against political parties that circumvent the electoral laws. "The media must follow cases of electoral malpractice and pressurise the enforcement agencies like the police, to do their work." Similarly, he said, the Electoral Commission could take steps to mount pressure on the police to investigate and institute prosecution into cases of electoral fraud.

Mr. Akoto Ampaw came down hard on Ghanaian judges, citing the legal tussle over the Ayawaso Wuogon electoral results (Election '96) between Isaac George Amoo, the NPP candidate and Mrs. Rebecca Adotey of the NDC as one case in which Ghana's judges did not acquit themselves with distinction.

Making a point of the US Presidential elections in which a winner is yet to emerge, Ampaw said that the US judicial system is acting expeditiously on this monumental constitutional problem from which Ghana's judiciary can learn many important lessons.

The Amoo-Adotey case has rolled before the Supreme Court for 3 years and still the court cannot decide. After next week's election, Akoto Ampaw said, the case would be dead, for whatever final judgement is given, would have been superceded by Election 2000.

He asked the media to be fair in political reporting in the run-up to the elections. They must engage in objective and valid criticism of all parties where necessary for "facts by themselves may not mean much unless they are arranged, presented in a meaningful and analytical manner to avoid confusion."

Mr. Akoto Ampaw threw a bombshell when he explained that the giving of gifts to influence voters is a crime under Ghana's electoral laws, which some political parties are flouting with impunity. Some parties, he explained, even emboss their party symbols on merchandise which they distribute to the electorate to influence them to vote for them. He asked the media to study the laws and expose all such crimes being committed in the name of electioneering.

Mr. John Mahama, Minister of Communications, who delivered the keynote address, admitted that it is normal for tension to build up at election time, but asked all stakeholders to ensure it did not degenerate into violence to mar the process.

He stated that some politicians are infused with the spirit of campaign frenzy and often get carried away by launching vitriolic attacks on opponents whenever they mount the platform to address supporters. For that reason, he asked media practitioners to exercise discretion and edit portions of platform utterances which are likely to charge the political atmosphere. He was also critical of the New Patriotic Party's announced aim of "declaring their own results" and said that would have been the signal for confusion, but he was pleased that the NPP had explained that what it meant was collation.

When Mr. David Kanga, Deputy Chairman, Electoral Commission took his turn, he explained that the Commission is keeping track of the national coverage of the photo ID cards till the end of this month and if it was able to cover 85- 90% countrywide, it would declare the thumb-printed ID cards as no longer legal tender.

Kanga explained that replacing all thumb-printed IDs as recommended by some politicians would not be possible because some people might have died, traveled outside the country at the time of the exercise or due to an individual's own lackadaisical attitude towards the exercise. He gave the hint that within 72 hours, all the results should have been announced.

Whether the elections cannot be rigged, or whether they have been rigged over time, or whether after 72 hours of the polls being closed, Ghanaians will receive the outcome with grace, is left to be seen as the clock ticks closer...