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Opinions of Saturday, 12 January 2008

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

Is Incumbency A Threat To Democracy?

In this present crisis government is not the solution, government is the problem.
Ronald Wilson Reagan, Former US President

Sometime ago in our part of the world, democracies and rule of law had been threatened by military interference and coup d’etat. But today these forms of threats have changed. It is become ruling government interfering with the democratic process either by attempting to rig election or forcibly amending the constitution to stand for election again when their term expires. With the collapse of the Cold War and the emergence of America as the only super power in the world, the idea of democracy has become a like conflagration fire which has caught every part of the world. Africa, a continent which once had a congregation of military leaders as heads of states now embraced democracy. Between 1990 and now democracy has become like an oxygen which can be found everywhere human beings live in Africa.

One thing which runs through every democracy is the limit to which one can stay in office as a president. Almost all democracies in Africa limit the tenure of office of presidents or heads of states to two terms maximum. I believe that the architects of various constitutions did not put this there for cosmetic purpose.

The more a politician stays in office the more likely corruption and abuse of power seem to be likely. And as Lord Acton dictum affirms this that ‘power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely’. It is so sad that some of our leaders have been trying to strangulate and stifle the growth of democracy on the continent.

Through the inordinate desire to stay in office till ‘they breathe their last breath’ some incumbent presidents have forcibly changed constitutional provisional to their advantage. In Togo, the former president Gnassingbe Eyadema defiled the constitutional provision and run for third term in office. Not only did he run election for three terms but he presided over controversial elections which nearly turned Togo apart. The catalogue is replete in Africa for civilian heads of states who attempted to run for third term in office. In Nigeria, Olusengu Obasanjo attempted to amend the constitution to stand for the third term; he did not succeed; rather he presided over one of the worst controversial elections in Nigeria’s history. As at now the last year’s election in Nigeria cannot be issued a clean certificate.

In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe is also a classical example. And that of President Yaha Jemmeh of Gambia is also another example. It is not wrong for one to say that elected presidents in some part of the continent have become ‘tyrants’ and doing the opposite of the what they have sworn to uphold. If it is not incumbent president trying to stay in office ‘forever’ then another phenomenon whereby the election is rigged for the successor of the outgoing incumbent president is becoming common in Africa and it is of a phenomenal increase. This has happened in almost every African country which has experienced such a transition. In Ghana it nearly happened in the year 2000 election. It has happened in Nigeria and also in Sierra Leone. Can we see such a phenomenon in Ghana during this year’s election? Everything is possible in our part of the world.

A more contemporary example is the recent controversial election in Kenya which international observers have declared it as not free and fair. The election was marred with controversy. President Mwai Kibaki’s desire to stay in office for another term through any means necessary has resulted in the election been rigged. Today Kenya has hit the news headlines not because of the performance of its economy but the post election violence which has resulted in the death of about six hundred.

The dark cloud of genocide hangs low on Kenya because of the illicit intercourse between the ruling government and the electoral commissioner. The stories of ‘Stolen Verdicts’ are plenty in Africa. Some politicians do not respect the views of their people.

Democracy although is not perfect but it is better than autocracy and military dictatorship. We must try to uphold the principles of democracy-the right of the people to choose who governs them.

Incumbency meddling in electoral process to the advantage of the ruling party is something that should not be tolerated.

The independence of the electoral commission, the judiciary, the law enforcement agencies and other state institutions are crucial if democracy is to succeed in our part of the world. In deed Ghana cannot claim free from the ills of executive interference of electoral processes. This year’s election would be another litmus test to our democracy-as to the levelling of the playing field and the holiness of the process devoid of state interference. HOW TO CONTROL ABUSE OF INCUMBENCY IN EVERY ELECTION?

Some school of thought has called for all incumbent presidents who want to stand for re-election to relinquish their position to allow for a free and fair election. This is not possible in every democratic process. What can we do make sure that democratic processes are not compromised? What has happened in Kenya can happen in every nation. It takes the electoral commissioner to rig election for the president when he wants to go for the second or third term.

It takes the Chief Justice and the Speaker of Parliament to interpret the constitution to favour a person especially when incumbent wants to go for the third term or do anything undemocratic in the democratic process.

So you would agree with me that military in Africa possess no threat to democracies but the institutions of the state-Electoral Commission, Judiciary and Legislative and finally the law enforcement agency to enforce illegalities. We must be reminded that government by the people for the people still remains the sovereign definition of democracy. Leaders must accept the will of the people. Again we must know as President Reagan said that no arsenal in this world is stronger than the will of the people.

Appiah Kusi Adomako is an international freelance writer and a speech writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. E-mail:

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