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Opinions of Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Columnist: Aboagye, Kwabena

Did Yar’Adua Prevent Kuffour from Rigging Ghana’s Polls?

Indeed, did Yar’Adua ‘stop’ Kuffour from rigging Ghana’s polls? My candid opinion is that to suggest any such situation could be ascribing too much to Mr.Yar’Adua to the detriment of ordinary Ghanaians who worked tirelessly to safeguard the integrity of electoral system in the last elections.

Ghana has a long history of organizing credible elections, even during the difficult era of military rule and economic crisis. The country’s election umpires have demonstrated profound integrity and uncanny neutrality in election matters. A classical example was in the 1970s, during the regime of General Ignatius Archeampong. That much-harassed military government in its quest to foist a dubious democratic process anchored on a project dubbed Union Government eventually succumbed to intense pressure to organize a referendum on this political concept. Justice Abban, a young, brilliant jurist, as head of the electoral commission was saddled with the responsibility of organizing the referendum. And when the results started trickling in, the military junta realized they were going to lose the vote. Soldiers, presumably sent by Archeampong and his cronies, stormed the offices of the electoral commission in Accra, threatening to shoot Abban if he did not announce that Ghanaians had voted for the Union Government. He blatantly rebuffed the intimidating, heavily-armed soldiers and subsequently resigned days later.

Mr.Rawling has never hidden his unbridled hatred of former president Kuffour, but if indeed it is true that he claimed that Mr.Yar’Adua intervened to stop Kuffour from rigging the last elections in Ghana, then that would be extremely unfortunate. And that is because I expected Rawlings to know that not even the president can easily rig an election in Ghana. How do you ring an election? Either by outright rigging by the electoral body (often by the outright falsification of results) or security forces or even hired thugs may be organized to snatch or stuff ballot boxes, often in an election process characterized by widespread acts of violence and voter intimidation.

Ghana’s electoral system is largely insulated from the whims and caprices of anyone, not even the president. The independence and integrity of the electoral body has never been questioned and the commission has conducted itself creditably well in the past 16 years. As a result, the two main political parties have won twice in the past four polls. My question is, if it is that easy to rig an election in Ghana, as was reportedly suggested by Rawlings in that THISDAY’s article, why didn’t he (Rawlings) rig the elections in 2000, when his candidate, the then vice president, was defeated by the candidate of the opposition?

At the time Mr.YarAdua sent a delegation to Acrra last December, the Ghana elections had long been conducted and the electoral commission had the results. There were no hitches as THISDAY report suggested. The apparent delay in announcing the result was to enable the electoral body verify a few complaints. As soon as the electoral body completed investigations into those complaints the results were promptly announced. Previous elections, including the last one passed off relatively peacefully. Ghana’s electoral system, like that of the United States, Britain and elsewhere, is not perfect. But the critical element is that the wishes of the people are ultimately upheld. In the case of the last elections, two elements contributed to raise the stakes. First was the discovery of oil, and the second was the fact that the candidate of the ruling party had a narrow win in the first round of balloting and his supporters were optimistic they could win the second round quite easily. For most NPP supporters therefore, the party’s narrow loss of the presidency was heart-breaking. All that heightened tensions a bit, but every Ghanaian knew the situation was going to be resolved by Ghanaians, not outsiders. And the positive factor that kept this optimism alive was absolute confidence Ghanaians had in their electoral system, which had delivered some of the most credible elections ever seen on the African continent.

Thanks to AIT, most Nigerians followed the last elections in Ghana very closely. They saw how millions of enthusiastic voters converged at polling stations at the break of dawn on election day, and conducted themselves in a disciplined manner. They made sure their votes counted, as had been the case with past elections in Ghana. We saw voters staying back till the end of the voting exercise to watch the counting process and announcement of results, in some cases escorting ballot boxes over long distances to collating centres. Those were the true heroes of Ghana’s democracy.

No one should seek to downplay the unique features of Ghana’s democracy. The idea that Kuffour could even contemplate rigging the elections is absolutely obnoxious. This was a man who came to power simply because his predecessor who could have ‘rigged’ the election to favour his candidate did not. Every Ghanaian leader understands that there would always be another opportunity and that being in opposition may only last till the next election. And Ghanaians should be proud of what they have achieved- not many African countries can boast of such an incredible feat. And Kuffour himself made it abundantly clear he will respect the wishes of the Ghanaian people. As a matter of fact, he had no choice!

I am not sure what THISDAY meant by, “The president invited Kuffour to Abuja where he pleaded with him…..” Mr. Kuffour’s last official trip to Nigeria as president of Ghana was in mid-December 2008- to attend the ECOWAS summit in Abuja, and that was days before the general elections.

And the logic that Yar’Adua is a committed democrat who desperately wanted the elections in Ghana to succeed? The 2007 elections that brought Mr.YarAdua to power in Nigeria has been described as one of the worst ever on the African continent. Even more incongruous is the fact that all elections so far held under President Yar;Adua have been a huge disaster, the most recent being the one in Ekiti. Does it make sense therefore that Yar’Adua could “stop” election rigging in Ghana and cannot do same in his own country? And can Nigerians say with certainty that their government has done enough to guarantee free, fair and credible and violence-free elections in 2011?

Mr.Yar’Adua ostensibly had wished Ghana well during the last election process, but to suggest his intervention ultimately made all the difference in an orderly transition is absurd.

Kwabena Aboagye Accra