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Opinions of Friday, 5 December 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Let's vote 'skirt and blouse'

“The minority will have it’s say but the majority will always have its way.”

This is a very popular saying in parliament. Working as a parliamentary correspondent, I often heard MPs saying it. Those on the majority side would say it with such glee, gloating at their ability to do just about anything they wanted. On the other hand, those on the minority side, would say it with such sadness, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them.

The problem with this ‘philosophy’, however, is that the majority never gets its way by force of argument. It often does so with numbers. As a result, whenever there is a major policy decision to be taken, almost every MP on the majority side will be in the chamber – not to join in a stimulating debate that will expose the various perspectives on the issue at hand – but simply to add to the votes.

That’s why we have a lot of ‘silent’ MPs who do not contribute to debates or do anything of great significance throughout the parliamentary term. All they do is vote when they are asked to.

I wish we had a situation where MPs engaged more with each other and reached out across the political divide to take bipartisan decisions that are in the interest of all Ghanaians – not just their parties.

It’s called consensus. This is when the two sides sit together and come to an agreement, which will not necessarily be the ‘way’ of the majority – but an aggregation of the views of both sides, carefully blended in a bowl of compromises and spiced with the realization that wisdom does not reside on just one side.

And this where the concept of “skirt and blouse” voting comes in. When you choose to vote for a presidential candidate from ‘Party A’ but vote for a parliamentary candidate from ‘Party B’ or ‘Party C’, you have voted ‘skirt and blouse’. It’s that simple.

For 16 years, our parliament has often been controlled by the party of the president. This has resulted in a weakening of our parliament, sucked the confidence out of it and made it seem like an extension of the executive instead of a powerful, independent, assertive arm of government. In other words, our parliament has often been what people call a “rubber stamp” legislature. Instead of subjecting decisions and policies of the executive to careful scrutiny, MPs just apply the stamp of approval without batting an eye.

As we go out to vote on Sunday, I am urging my friends and anyone who really cares about the growth of democracy in Ghana to vote “skirt and blouse”. I’d like to have a situation where the president is form ‘Party A’ but parliament is controlled by ‘Party B’ or ‘Party C’.

The political parties don’t like to hear anything about ‘skirt and blouse’. They claim that when the executive arm is in the hands of one party and the legislature is controlled by a different party, it’s difficult to govern. And I agree with them. It’s difficult but not impossible. The parties fear that if we vote “skirt and blouse” we will be left with a “hung parliament” and nothing will get done. That’s the perspective of the politician. But look at it from the citizen’s perspective.

Do you think that after telling that cock and bull story about his missing certificates, I.C. Quaye would have become a minister if the NPP didn’t have a majority in parliament? The president would have been forced to appoint someone else – at least someone with certificates to prove that he has the qualifications he claims to have. Do you think if we didn’t have the president’s party controlling parliament, Dr, Richard Anane would have been re-appointed minister of state, after he told the whole nation that his infidelity benefited the country in diverse ways? With a ‘skirt and blouse’ government, the right people get appointed to work in government.

Since our constitution also insists that the president must appoint most of his ministers from government, ‘skirt and blouse’ voting, will help ensure that we have a genuine “all-inclusive” government – not the token sort, which saw someone like Mallam Issa being brought into government only to be jailed and later used as a sorry example of how government had dealt with corruption. If you are tired of ‘NDC-this, NPP-that’, ‘Skirt and blouse’ voting is the way to go. It ensures that the parties work together for our good. As things stand now, MPs on either side are hardly ever in a mood for compromise. ‘Consensus’ is not a very popular word in our parliament. The only times you see MPs arriving at a consensus are when they sit in secret to fix their salaries and approve government guarantees for car loans they will never repay. A ‘skirt and blouse’ vote will change all of this.

Finally, ‘skirt and blouse’ voting will ensure that our parliament rediscovers itself and an important arm of government which is supposed to keep an eye on the president and his men (and women). Under the current arrangements, our president can get away with murder and parliament will not be bothered in the least because, the majority will have its say and the minority will be left with nothing but a mere say.

It is true that ‘skirt and blouse’ voting could leave us with a ‘hung’ parliament. I believe that ‘hung’ parliament will always find a way to ‘unhung’ itself and for my money, a hung parliament is infinitely better than a ‘rubber stamp’ legislature. You may ask: are we ready for a ‘hung’ parliament? That’s almost like asking if we are ready for democracy. But then, my simple answer is: Yes, we are!
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