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Opinions of Saturday, 30 April 2016

Columnist: Graphic.com.gh

Afoko interview and question of internal democracy in our political parties

The quotations ascribed to famous people in our virtual world these days require the capacity to harbour all opinions to fully embrace. In Ghana, the chief author of strange and in most cases, hilarious quotes is the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who I am certain, is blissfully unaware of his authorship or ubiquity on the Internet in our country. I understand Einstein here, though, and I hope to be able to write in tandem with his thoughts in mind for today.

Paul Afoko, the suspended national chairman of the biggest opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), has given an earthshaking interview in the current April 2016 edition of the Africawatch magazine published in the United States.

I say earthshaking because it would be difficult to discover the least palatable angle about the things and opinions he offered about the matters in his own party which have ended in his current suspension from his duties as chairman. I understand the communications directorate of his party has placed an embargo on party communicators discussing on air the Afoko interview, inferentially therefore, hoping and praying that it will go away as a bad dream.

It would not. I am under no such strictures not because I am not an NPP member but I cherish our constitution and its freedoms that we are enjoying now, including freedom of speech. But more importantly, and the thrust for today, the interest in this Afoko interview reflects our growing concerns with the internal democratic dynamics of our political parties as we mature in our unique brand of democratic governance.

An opposing party is to oppose, but we must put our own houses in order first before seeking national office and executive power. Happily, our 4th republican constitution enjoins all parties to conduct their affairs in a democratic, transparent manner.

Some, mostly NPP commentators, have sought to dismiss Afoko’s views as the sour grapes of a properly-disciplined party official who was standing in the way of victory. Others, including me, see it as the most powerful variant in the quest for real democracy in our political parties.

This is because it is these same parties which will govern us with our democratic constitution and its tenets when they win elections, and it is valid, proper and patriotic for all citizens to be assured of the internal democratic ethos of those parties and its leaders.

Yes, I say all parties, but in reality this actually refers only to the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) of President Mahama, and the NPP of Nana Akufo-Addo. The smaller parties are yet to convince by their performance at the polls that they are not mere cargoes making up the weight of the ship of state.

This is because at the last elections in 2012, the smaller parties were beaten in most areas and categories by the unregistered group called spoilt ballots, a disgraceful but true assessment of their relevance in our contemporary lives.

I refer to myself not out of hubris and arrogance, but because I have been involved in an earlier internal disagreement in the internal affairs of the NPP in 1998, and very shortsighted people quote my experience as proof that that party would weather this storm in a similar way. This view, of course, is not the historical reality, and it amuses me to no end when people quote extensively from the available sources to prove their faith.

The first difference in assessing the Concordia motorbikes affair in 1998 and comparing it to what is happening now, revealed in the Afoko interview, is that President Kufuor is a very different personality and politician from Nana Akufo-Addo.

The former sought consensus and unity, sometimes to the pain of his close backers, whilst the latter seems to be the cheerleader for harsh exclusionist measures in the NPP. Needless to add, I was neither dismissed, suspended, stabbed, assaulted or had acid poured on me for my views.

I find it particularly revealing that the chief source for those who support the happenings of today is the book by party stalwart, Dr Kwame Fordwor, a former president of the African Development Bank and regional chairman of the Ashanti branch of the party.

Dr Fordwor clearly disagreed with how the 1998 episode was handled, and supported me. The reliance by some on him is therefore the result of incomplete appreciation of the book and its contents.

It is also disgusting and dangerous to the safety of this republic that hitherto loud and raucous self-appointed and self-regulating civil society and religious groups have not found it necessary to condemn without any doubt whatsoever, the claim by Afoko and the government that militant elements in his party sought to revolutionise our politics by bringing in Serbian and South African security men and women to train party members on how to capture power not through the constitutional means of the ballot, but through popular agitation.

This explains the NPP’s morbid fascination with the tiniest irrelevant details of the work of the Electoral Commission (EC), because the party does not believe in it hence the EC must be delegitimised in the popular perception. Are these revered neutral groups in league, therefore, with those who are decried by Afoko in his extensive, mind-blowing interview?

These groups have the moral authority to speak out clearly and forcefully on coming troubles on the horizon, and their failure to do so up to date speaks volumes about how they perceive their work, and who is their favourite.

Since 1951, our political parties have devised electoral colleges at all levels to choose their lowest to their highest leaders and officers. Since 2015 however, the ruling NDC have gone further than the rest in allowing all party members the right to vote in these internal elections, cementing its claim to be the most democratic and transparent in keeping with constitutional strictures.

In so doing, the ruling party is now empowering its members to choose the most electable person to fill their presidential slot, leaving out the others to depend on the hoary, unsustainable mantra of experience.

That is at the root of the quest for internal peace and harmony in our political parties, without which, they cannot hope to offer a leadership of trust and competence. This is what successful democracies in the world do, and we must seek parity with such, for the sake of internal and national peace and stability in our parties and nation.