Feature Article of Saturday, 22 December 2012

Columnist: Samuel Adadi Akapule

The EC as Referee of Political Parties

Just like the referee in a football match who conducts the game, the Electoral Commission (EC) is the referee of political parties contesting an election. The referee, many a time, could receive bashing for making the slightest mistake or being seen to be biased in handling a match.

It is important to note that in any democratic country, the role and functions of the EC encompass the creation of new constituency boundaries based on population census, conducting referenda, registration of eligible voters under the principle of universal adult suffrage or one man one vote and organizing and supervising local government, parliamentary and presidential elections every four years. It also ensures that the voters' register is updated and verified, provides logistics during elections such as polling booths at designated polling-stations, provision of vehicles to convey returning officers, remuneration of polling assistants co-opted and recruited for the countrywide exercise, accreditation of external and internal monitors and polling agents, notably from the EU, AU, ECOWAS, Carter Centre, NGOs, among others.

It also receives electoral petitions and refers them to the courts, registration or deregistration of political parties, organizing voter education and sensitization, acting as referee and umpire in the election exercise, among many other roles. One will agree that it is of paramount importance for the government to provide adequate funds to the EC to enable it discharge its onerous assignments. This the present government did in addition to assistance from foreign partners. The Electoral Commission of Ghana was established by Act of Parliament in 1993, under the 1992 Constitution, as an independent or autonomous body with the sole mandate of overseeing elections in the country.

Since its inception, the Commission has performed par excellence in organizing ensuing elections in Ghana. It organized the elections successfully in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 respectively.   The EC of Ghana became a model of excellence in Africa because of its professionalism and non-partisan stance. Based on its credentials, many African countries had to send their EC staff to understudy it under the aegis of the UNDP. However, it is very significant to note that just like any other human institution, the EC cannot run away from the fact that it is not perfect.

In this year's elections, one of the major political parties in the country has challenged the EC and accused it of electoral malpractices during the just-ended polls of December 7, and is threatening court action. Even before then, the EC after playing its constitutional function of creating 45 additional constituencies in the run up to the 2012 elections was dragged to Court. The matter went to the Supreme Court and the EC won, under the interpretation of  Act 451 of the 1992 Constitution.

What seems to have been forgotten is that in the year 2000, when ex President Kufuor won the elections, the constituencies were increased from 200 to 230. What is the big deal now in increasing them from 230 to 275? Presidential elections have been held successfully in Ghana in 1960, 1979, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.Two of the momentous occasions in Ghana's chequered political history were in 2000 when the NDC lost the election and handed over power to the NPP, and again in 2008, the tables turned and NPP lost to NDC and handed over power peacefully.

In the 1970s, under the late Lt Gen Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, the issue of Union Government in Ghana was determined through a referendum during which the then Electoral Commissioner, Justice I.K. Abban, refused to compromise on rigging the results, and his life became endangered as a result. He had to flee the country for discharging his duties honourably, professionally and in a non-partisan manner. Just like Justice I.K. Abban, the current EC Chairman, Dr Afari Djan is almost face to face with a similar problem.

Thank God, Ghana is a democratic country governed by a Constitution and Dr Afari Djan does not need to take refuge in any country if only he continues to do what is right. So far, Dr Afari Djan has followed the fine tradition of distinguished civil servants Ghana has produced and should be allowed to perform his constitutionally mandated role without any interference. In any case, just like players who cannot assume or usurp the role of the referee, so it is with political parties. It would be unconstitutional for any political party to assume or usurp the role of the EC, the referee.

One significant fall-out from the December 7 election dispute that is unacceptable was when members of one of the major parties in the dispute decided to vent their anger on innocent Journalists. It is the wish of this writer that next time the GJA should go just beyond condemning such attacks and organize Journalists to stage a total blackout on the activities of those who assault Journalists. One cannot rule out the fact that there were some challenges with the use of the new biometric machines, but all the stakeholders could have sat together with the EC to dialogue properly and reach a compromise. After all, it was all the key players who advocated for the new technology to be used to prevent recurring complaints of ghost names, missing names and other lapses.

The undisputed truth, however, is that the new technology should have been tried and tested properly before allowing it to be used. This would have enhanced the efficiency of the referee (EC) and prevented it from being bashed. The way forward is that there is the urgent need for the EC to re-examine its shortcomings during the just ended elections to prevent any similar lapses and anomalies in future polls. Ghana has travelled too far in terms of democratic governance and it is regarded as the beacon of hope by many African countries. For the sake of peace and development let us all stand up to safeguard the peace the country is enjoying. We cannot afford to become like other war-torn countries on the continent.