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Opinions of Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Is Dr Zanetor Rawlings Eligible to Contest Parliamentary Elections in 2016?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK November 29, 2015

According to media reports in Ghana, a private citizen is heading to court to annul the results of the NDC’s Klottey Korle parliamentary primary, which was won by Dr Zanetor Agyemang Rawlings, the first child of Ex-President Rawlings and his wife, Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings. It is also reported that a law firm has filed a search at the EC to ascertain whether Zanetor’s name is on the Electoral Register. Safo & Marfo @ Law wants to know the following: whether or not Dr Zanetor Rawlings is a register voter within the meaning of Article 94(1)(a) of the 1992 Constitution and if so, when was her name entered onto the electoral register? The law firm also wants a certified true copy of the Zanetor’s register (see, “Private Citizen seeks to nullify Zanetor's election in court”, Ghanaweb/Myjoyonline, November 28, 2015). This is analysis of the citizens’ action and its potential implications for Zenator, the Rawlings family and NDC.

The intended action of the private citizen and the search request by Safo & Narfo @Law I believe are aimed at upholding the 1992 Ghanaian Constitution. In a country where lawlessness and indiscipline are gradually eating the country alive, these actions to uphold the Constitution must be applauded. The actions could potentially disqualify Dr Zanetor Rawlings from contesting the Klottey Korle Constituency, which she won on behalf of NDC just a week ago despite her name not on NDC’s voters register for the primary. However, this matter is not as clear cut as appears to the naked eye.

Prior to the NDC primaries on November 21, 2015 and when it became public knowledge that Zanetor was contesting the Klottey Korle Constituency primary, there were reports that she was not a registered voter in Ghana. No one in Ghana or within the NDC followed up the reports. In effect, the reports suffered sudden death, so she filled her nomination forms, was vetted and approved as a candidate by NDC only for the allegation to resurface after her victory.

If it's true that Dr Zenetor Rawlings is not a registered voter in Ghana but she managed to contest and won, then there are lots of questions to be answered by her, NDC and her parents. Has Zanetor breached Ghana’s Constitution? Did she do so deliberately and if so, did she believed or assumed that her father’s position as former president and founder of the NDC absolved her from complying with the laws of Ghana? What sort of a legislator would she be, if, even before she got elected as MP she is breaching the very document that will guide her work as a legislature? Could she be prosecuted for her total disregard for the law? Finally, could she be disqualified from contesting the Korley Klotte Constituency for NDC in 2016?

Let me attempt to answer the last question. Article 94(1)(a) of the Constitution states, “subject to the provisions of this article, a person shall not be qualified to be a Member of Parliament unless (a) s/he is a citizen of Ghana, has attained the age of twenty-one years and is a registered voter”. The last condition, (is a registered voter) though unambiguous is subject interpretation. In my view, the words “is a registered voter” raise question of when (date) does one qualifies to be a registered voter to be eligible to stand for election as M. Is it at the time of filling nomination with the EC as parliamentary candidate or at the time of filling nomination forms to contest a party’s parliamentary primary (if one is contesting on behalf of a political party)? This is not clarified by the Constitution. I believe it will at the time of filling nomination forms with the EC to contest for the parliamentary election. I say so because if one is contesting as an independent, then this constitutional requirement must be met at the point of filling nomination forms with the EC and must equally apply to all other parliamentary candidates. There cannot be different rules for different candidates.

If my understanding is accurate, then it is possible that despite Zanetor not being a registered voter at the time of the NDC parliamentary primaries, it is possible for her to register when the EC opens the Voters’ Register during the limited exercise as it does just before national elections. In that case, Zanetor could still contest the 2016 parliamentary elections on behalf of NDC. On the other, if my interpretation is wrong but one should be a registered voter at the time of filling nominations to contest the party parliamentary primary, then she will be ineligible to contest in 2016 despite her victory.

Why did Greater Accra NDC Executive not conduct due diligence on whether Zanetor was a registered voter before vetting and approving her candidacy when allegation about her not being a registered voter first surfaced? Do they believe that because of her family connection in Ghana and within the NDC she does not need to comply with the Constitution of Ghana? Were they scared of disqualifying the daughter of former president and the founder of NDC? What is intriguing is the fact that when the Regional Chairman, Mr Ade Coker was asked why Zanetor’s name was not on the NDC voters’ register for Korley Klotte Constituency on the day of elections, he replied that it was probably because her name was not on Ghana’s Electoral Register. I was shocked by his response and public admission that one of their candidates and a potential MP was not a registered voter in Ghana.

Though shocking, it’s no strange to me because in Ghana anything and everything is acceptable, whether constitutional or unconstitutional, legal or illegal. Party activists openly boast of breaking electoral laws, yet, they are not interviewed by the police, let alone prosecuted. The NDC MP for Gomoa Central publicly admitted to using money to influence the outcome of the party’s presidential primary, an electoral offence, yet no action has been taken by either the EC or the police. Again, someone who claims to be a card holding member of the opposition party, NPP publicly admitted to securing military uniforms for people to invade NPP Headquarters, a very serious criminal offence and a threat to national security, yet he is being treated with kid gloves. Ghana is slowly descending into abyss.

For NDC its failure to ensure that Zanetor is a registered voter before approving her candidacy could cause them the Korley Klotte seat because some of her supported could see the court action to disqualify her as coming from the side of the defeated candidate and should it lead to her disqualification, her supporters may refuse to vote for the 2016 NDC candidate, particularly if it’s the defeated candidate.

For the parents, did they also know that Zanetor was not a registered voter, yet they encourage and supported her to contest? Do they believe that their position should enable her to contest irrespective of the fact that she may not be eligible under the 1992 Constitution? Do they think their family should be above the law or what?

It appears the Rawlingses have had everything done for them when they were in power to the extent that they are now incapable of managing some aspects of their public affairs. In 2012 Zanetor’s mother, (Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings) was disqualified by the EC as presidential candidate of her party, NDP because her nomination forms were not properly completed by her. If she could not ensure that her nomination forms were correctly completed, how on earth was she expecting to be president of Ghana? Now her daughter could also be disqualified for not being a registered voter before contesting for elected office. Perhaps, because of their past, they wrongly believe that they are above the law and that the constitution does not apply to them. For the Rawlingses, Zanetor’s disqualification will be a big blow to their political machination to take control over the NDC and may have to wait another four years, when she can contest again if disqualified in 2016.

No one in Ghana should be above the law and all must be made to comply with the laws, rules and regulations of the state, irrespective of one’s position, wealth, gender, race, religion, age, socio-economic or political status and the Rawlingses should be no exception.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK