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Opinions of Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Columnist: Arhin, Albert A.

Dr. Afari-Gyan @70 years

: Who will be the next chairman for the Electoral Commission?

Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan might be feeling the heat of the ‘machine gun cross examination’ coming from Lawyer Addison but he will be celebrating his birthday in less than 2 weeks time. On 18th June, Dr Afari-Gyan—the man who by virtue of his roles, functions and authority has made Ghana earned enviable democratic credentials at least since the 4th Republic—will be celebrating his 68th birthday. Hopefully, the Election Petition would have been over by that time to enable him having a blast. By 2016, when the next General Elections will be held, he would be reaching his 70s—quite above the statutory retirement age. Will he then still be in the helm of affairs in the 2016 General Elections? Why not? May be yes! Maybe no!

Well, I am no way suggesting that he cannot still be in the helm of affairs but we cannot have him forever. Who then becomes the next EC Chairman in case he retires by 2016 or 2020? How will the losing party in the ongoing Election petition—any of the two biggest political parties we have—relate to his successor and the Commission? Can the ‘new’ EC Chairman be as firm and ‘independent’ as we have observed over the past 20 years or so? Within the recent unfortunate culture of institutional denigration, how will the next EC Chairman be perceived and received across the political divide? In this article, I outline two issues that should immediately engage the attention of the next EC Chairman (whether he is appointed before or after the 2016).

The man Afari Gyan: A hero, a villain or something in between?
Ghana’s democratic credentials are enviable across the world. One man who has contributed so much to this feat has been Dr. Afari-Gyan. Consistently, this man—and his team—have sought to put in place nearly all the systems, regulations, practices and frameworks guiding our elections for the past 20 years or so.

Of course, no single election in the 4th Republic (i.e. 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and the recent 2012) has ever been held without one or more party-ies complaining of some issues. The 2012 General Elections—and its aftermath contestation—have brought to light some structural weaknesses, errors and windows of abuse that might not have engaged attention in the past elections. But the consistency and the obvious attempts by the EC to improve the electoral system – notably from switching from opaque to transparent ballot boxes to photo Voters ID cards to biometric verification—under the leadership of Dr. Afari-Gyan need commendation. It may therefore be quite unfair for people to invoke curses on him. While he is not above reproach and criticism, I think we can do so in a more civil manner without casting aspersions and insinuations on him.

The face of the EC after the Supreme Court verdict: Message to the next EC Chairman
According to the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, the Electoral Commission shall consist of a Chairman; two Deputy Chairmen and four other members. Obviously, the appointments of these members are vested in the hands of the President.

Considering that the current Deputy Chairmen have been in the ‘business’ for quite a number of years, I am not sure the issue of who the next chairman will be should be a problem. Both Amadu Sulley and Mr. Kantanka can be appointed. There are several equally competent Ghanaians that can fit into the shoe of the EC Chairman. But whoever that will be appointed as the new Chairman of the EC faces two critical issues. The first one relates to the need to rebrand the EC to give it more positive image while the second issue borders on building bridges across the political divide in a way that minimize acrimonious engagement.

One of the distinctive features of the 2012 General Election disputes and all other ones relate to the proportional emphasis placed on the perceived role of the EC in perpetuating the supposed irregularities. In the past, the ‘invisible hand’ that might have allegedly misdirected and wrongly shaped the Electoral outcomes has largely been placed at the doorsteps of the sitting government. Hardly had accusing fingers been pointed to the EC—at least not in the way we have seen after the 2012 Elections. The next EC Chairman therefore needs to take opportunities from the ongoing petition to rebrand the Commission in a way that will give it a more positive and brighter image. The various systems and control mechanisms governing registration, exhibition, printing of ballot papers, voting, counting, collation, declaration etc need to be relooked at and enhanced. Infact, the whole electoral machinery need to be assessed critically to identify the windows of abuse and seal all of them.

The ongoing election petition has indisputably revealed that the 2012 elections were riddled with some errors and irregularities. The extent to which these errors and irregularities did affect the outcome of the 2012 Elections is matters that are now in the bosom of the Supreme Court. As it has been indicated by some social commentators, the EC Chairman who is also the Returning officer is ideally deemed to be at each polling station or constituency supervising the counting of votes, the completion of the Return Forms and announcing the results. But in reality, this is not possible. He would only sit possibly in Accra during the voting and counting phases and rely on agents and intermediaries—well over 40,000—to be able to perform this function. He only receives the final Return. He does not receive the Pink Sheets—which is the primary document used at the polling station level—before declaring the final result. The chairman must then rely on what they bring to him and so if errors have been committed in the course of compiling or transmitting to him the results that he declares, that would mean the possibility of announcing a ‘wrong winner’. In what ways can the new EC be able to build on the current systems and frameworks to ensure that the results he receives and declares are true and accurate? How can he ensure that the temporal staff the Commission employs work in a more honest, transparent and error-free manner? This singular task should further engage the ‘to-do-list of the new EC Chairman.

I have always admired the way and the manner through whivh the EC keeps involving political parties in the various stages of our electoral processes—even when no law requires that. This is very healthy for our young democracy. This relationship between political parties and the EC is likely to change marginally after the verdict of the Supreme Court. How can the new EC Chairman turn the relationship from ‘bitter’ to a more productive one? The next EC Chairman should thus be able to manage the relationship in a way that minimizes mistrust, suspicions and acrimonious engagement while also accepting constructive criticisms. This should be part of the institutional strengthening agenda of the new EC.

Our past elections may have been dented in one way or the other but there is no doubt that Dr Afari-Gyan has extremely done well to raise the flagship of Ghana aloft in the past 20 years as the chairman of the Electoral Commission. For all his ‘goodness’ and ‘evils’, we will not have him forever. The next EC Chairman after him will have to take the task of reforming the electoral system and particularly rebranding the EC to give it more positive image. Even more importantly, he should be able to build bridges across the political divide in a way that minimizes acrimonious engagement

Albert A Arhin
University of Cambridge