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Opinions of Thursday, 14 April 2005

Columnist: Acheampong, Osman

Ghana?s Democracy in Danger

When the BBC world affairs correspondent Mark Doyle set out to compare the developmental status of two British colonies Ghana and Malaysia, which both had independence in 1957 and ?were on an economic par - equally poor and equally dependent on the export of raw materials? the picture he painted from the contrast between the two today is definitely startling and calls for every Ghanaian to call into question if the country is going in the right direction with the current trend of affairs.

On April 5, 2005, Prime Minister Tony Blair called for general elections in the United Kingdom. It is by this announcement that I personally tried to ponder over the political system that we have in Ghana, that of Malaysia which a lot of Ghanaians have become accustomed to comparing their country with, vis-?-vis the development experiences of all three nations.

To put every issue raised in perspective, let us look at the system of government used in both Britain and Malaysia and compare how it affects their overall national progress. It is a fact that the UK is one of the most stable countries in the world. In fact it has the most stable economy in Europe. Malaysia on the other hand is emerging as an economic giant not only in Asia but the world at large. It is no accident that both countries have a lot in common in terms of their system of government and the way the day-to-day business of government is conducted.

The head of state in the United Kingdom is the queen and that of Malaysia is the King. Though very influential their positions are ceremonial, but they can use the position of the monarchy to push for certain national issues. Their positions also ensure that national stability is not compromised whenever the state government faces a treat of any sort. Even though I am slightly an anti-monarch I tend to support the positions of these monarchies in terms of their overall contributions to nation building like the example sited above. But unlike the UK, Malaysia?s kingship is rotated every five years to spread power among the numerous power brokers in the country. This system has being enshrined in the Malay constitution to avoid any confusion between the various fiefdoms in the Malay Peninsula.

The Prime Minister is the head of the UK Government. The person of the Prime Minister is selected by his/her party if the party is elected into parliament in a general election. The PM and his government literally stays in office for an unspecified term. Elections are triggered by pressure from parliament and when public opinion indicates a need for elections. Records show that in the last 150 years elections have been held an average of every 5 years. Prime Ministers and their governments stay in power for as long as they are elected by the people. For instance William Gladstone stayed in office from 1868-1894, whilst John Major and George Canning held power for 7 years and 100 days respectively. The timing of a General Election is at the discretion of the Prime Minister. The PM asks the Queen to dissolve Parliament by Royal Proclamation. The election is then usually held 17 working days after the date of the proclamation. Similarly Malaysia is Parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy where the King is the supreme ruler and the Prime Minister is the head of government. The public elects the members of parliament every five years and the party with the highest number selects a Prime Minister who forms the government of the nation. This means that a government may or may not be changed every 5 years. In the past 25 years or so the current government has managed to stay in power by forming complex alliances with opposition parties. However, the country has seen 5 PMs of various terms since independence with Dr. Mahatir Mohamad been the longest with 22 years and Tunn Hussein Onn with 5 years.

It will be an under estimation to compare Malaysia to the UK, but the underlying factors that drives the economies and peoples of both nations are very similar and considering the fact that the former has only being a sovereign nation for 48 years whilst the later has being in existence for centuries it is certainly noteworthy to compare the basic tenets that propels both countries.

Ghana on its part has made great strides in the last 13 years in terms of implementing democracy and the observance of human rights. A journey of thousand miles begins with one, so the people and leaders of Ghana must be commended for sustaining the current system for the longest time in the history of the nation. There are structures being put in place for democracy to flourish and this is in the right direction. There is a parliament and a president, which are both elected by the people every four years. The president chooses a cabinet and a counsel of state, which are all approved by parliament. A scenario that looks very much like the American system. The big question is, is this system the best for a country that aspires to be a middle-income nation within the shortest possible time? The problems confronting the nation are many. Building the institutions of government, the social institutions, eradicating poverty and private sector development are among the many things that any government has to accomplish within four years.

Dr. Mahathir said in his interview with Mark Doyle that "Political stability is extremely important", and "Without political stability there can be no economic development. People are not going to put money into a place where there is no certainty?. This is a fact known to everybody, yet he did not surrender to the ?absolute? definition of democracy as might be defined by the champions of democracy such as the United States. He simply said "Democracy is about the right to change government through the ballot box? And even though he might have been over simplistic on this point, he is portraying a kind of model that most developing nations can follow.

In the December 2004 elections it became apparently scary when the results of the elections were very close. The question on every body?s mind was what will happen if this government is kicked out? How can we measure the successes and failures of a government in four years? If we can at all, will it be a fair assessment with the situation on the ground? People might say but this is how it done in America, but they should not forget that the earlier presidents who fought so hard to establish the structures of government and of state as we see it today spent a considerable amount of time in office. Individual state governments are not restricted to just one or two terms of office as long as the people are satisfied with them.

It is with this notion that I think the current system should be looked at again. The size of Ghana is about one three-tenths (1.3 times) that of Malaysia and the population of Malaysia is about 3.5 million people more than that of Ghana, which means that in effect Ghana and Malaysia have almost the same number of people per square kilometers. This also means that some of the structures put in place to ensure the even spread of power that in facilitating ?stability? in Malaysia can be looked at in Ghana.

Ghana has 10 broad regions and many tribes or ethnic groups. Each region uniquely houses an ethnic group or a set of ethnic tribes. The politics in the country for the last 40 years has been marred by various attempts by politicians to take advantage of these ethnic divide along regional lines to either cling on to power or propel to power. This in itself is not a bad idea because even in the most politically advanced countries, political parties have their strong holds and individual politicians are favored by their own people. The situation in Ghana can be catamount to gross tribal hegemony and has the potential to be explosive if not taken care of. We have seen this very visibly in our neighboring countries and elsewhere in Sudan, Rwanda and the Congo. Ghana has the potential to set a model for the rest of Africa to follow and it has to begin now. The power brokers are not only the politicians who aspire to become presidents, ministers and district executives. The chiefs, traditional rulers and regional house of chiefs are all in contention to exert or exercise authority over the people. The politics of the death of the late Ya-Na and the role the Asantehene is perceived to be playing in the current administration is all but well know to a lot of observers. They are not considered politicians but the role they play has effect on the work of government and in fact can have a very polarizing effect on the current body politic. In order to achieve the necessary stability that the country needs for the accelerated growth that the country is in dire need of, we need to seriously restructure the power sharing system to include all stakeholders

My personal opinion on this will be a system similar to that of Malaysia or the United Kingdom, where the people elect the parliament; the majority party selects a government with a Prime Minister. There could be a second house of parliament made up of equal proportion of representatives from the regional house of chiefs, some elders and some lawyers. This second house will also select a chief every five or seven years to be the ceremonial president of the country. This way power does not stop with the Prime Minister, or even with the president, but with the people of every corner of the nation. The second house would be non-partisan and must be given special powers to step in when there is any treat to the ruling government. It must also be given powers by consensus to dissolve a government and call for elections when there is wide spread corruption or incompetence of a particular government?

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.