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Opinions of Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Columnist: Richard Osei Boateng

What is the greatest challenge of Ghana’s parliamentary democracy? - The national interest vrs political party consideration

In dispensing their parliamentary duties, MPs who are the representatives of their constituents who are voted mostly on the tickets of political parties - always get to an important crossroads in their parliamentary decision making.

Thus, whether to go the way of the party or the nation.

One may argue that the party is in the nation, so there isn't any difference; but as a political scientist, I know that a political party is just a single unit of the nation.

As far back as in the 500 BCs, the "Assembly", which is known today as Parliament, was introduced in Ancient Greece. This "Assembly" allowed all male adults of the nation to take part in decision making for the entire populace.

This was the direct representation of the people. With time, as a result of the increasing population pressures, coupled with feminists challenges and a host of issues, the people’s "Assembly" evolved.

Today, we have an indirect representation, where the people give their mandate to another person to represent them in parliament.

Since we embraced full constitutional democracy in Ghana in 1992, electorates have voted people they trusted to the parliament house to represent their interests.

One major issue that has come to the fore since then is "whether MPs serve the political party’s interest or that of the nation?"

It is a fact that most MPs are elected by their people on the tickets of political parties but once in parliament, they do various duties to promote the nation's interests and agenda.

Notwithstanding, party interests more often than not conflict with national interest in their duties.

Most MPs only see themselves as representing the party people who voted for them in their constituencies. Thus, they advance only the interests of such people to the detriment of the general populace in their constituencies.

Also, decision making on the floor of parliament, specifically debating and voting on issues, put MPs in very difficult positions - torn between what favours the party versus those of the nation.

It is true that the above is an international phenomenon but it is sad to note that in Ghana, since 1992, party interests have mostly and always allegedly thrived over national interests in these processes.

Through the work of party whips, party discipline is most of the time enforced to the core, which curtails and limits MPs in their broad thinking. Thus, always falling in the party lines. Developed Countries like the UK and US also have such creations but my worry is that ours' is nearing extremism.

Specifically, in the recent vote in the parliament of Ghana, on the referendum for political party participation in district level elections, Mr Ras Mubarak, MP for Kunbungu, is on record to have come public to declare an opposing stance to his party's decision. His party, prior to his action, had issued a one-line whip, which threatened him and his position.

As a result, he backtracked and apologized to his party. This is extreme partisanship.

Similarly, I'm sure most NPP MPs might have had issues with the "YES" vote by their party, yet they couldn't voice out.

Why are we treating our MPs this way?

It is a fact that our parliaments, since 1992, have mostly and always, carried out solely government business.

Elsewhere, MPs, CSOs, the media and even individual citizens are encouraged to push in "Private and Public member bills" to address key concerns of constituents or minority groups.

Can we say so of our parliamentary democracy?

Finally, our legislature is such that it is difficult to find a majority MP rise to oppose governments' business and bills laid before them through the minister of government business.

In America, we've heard of legislators from the president's party rise to disagree with him and consequently voting against his bills with boldness, caring less about what would happen to them.

Do you know that almost all bills of governments are passed by majority approval from their side because ruling parties in Ghana have always obtained majority seats in parliament?

So I ask myself, "How will a government-run it's business in Ghana if it, unfortunately, wins minority seats in parliament?".

We pray that this does not happen because if it does, we will really pluck the fruits of our seeds of partisanship sown in our legislature.

We cannot continue this way, something must be done.

We need to encourage more qualified people to go independent when contesting parliamentary seats because such people, per their stance, may in a way be trusted to remain nationalistic in decision making.

Moreover, this issue can be dealt with completely by a constitutional creation. As a nation, we need to consider a second chamber, which is by its creation neutral and non-partisan, to deal with this albatross.

Finally, CSOs, the media and individuals can put pressure on individual parliamentarians so they uphold their nationalistic 'conscience' .

CSOs and the media must step in, to support MPs who are victimized or punished as a result of contravening party stance or positions.

Our parliamentary democracy has persisted. However, it is not immune from disaster or crisis.

Let us think about our future representatives.

Let us do away with all impediments in the way of our representative democracy.

NANA OSEI BOATENG

(POLITICAL SCIENTIST, BROADCASTER, WRITER, EDUCATOR)

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