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Opinions of Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Columnist: Antwi-Boasiako, Kwaku

What Ghanaians and the Hong Kong Protesters have in common

By Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako, Accra, September 30, 2014

The main reason there are protests in Hong Kong today (30 September 2014) is simply that the protesters want the Chinese Government to give Hong Kong a free vote for its next leader in 2017, rather than having to elect one of a number of candidates who would have to be vetted and approved by Beijing. The government in Beijing has rejected their request, hence the continued protests. Ghanaians have a similar issue to resolve with regards to the mode of selecting Metropolitan, Municipal & District Chief Executives (MMDCEs), except that the issue has not yet come to a head.

In Ghana, the mode of selecting Metropolitan, Municipal & District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) is currently the subject of a constitution review process. While many Ghanaians prefer to directly elect their MMDCEs, the current government issued the following White Paper on the Report of the Constitution Review Commission:

[Issue Four: Mode of selecting MMDCEs

Government does not accept the recommendation that Parliament should be empowered to determine specific mechanisms for choosing Metropolitan, Municipal & District Chief Executives (MMDCEs). Government does not also accept the recommendation that in Metropolises, MCEs should be popularly elected. Government is of the view that in decentralizing in a unitary state, a delicate balance ought to be struck between central control and local autonomy. Consequently, Government is of the view that Article 243 (1) of the Constitution should be amended for the President to nominate a minimum of 5 persons who would be vetted by the Public Services Commission (PSC) for competence after which 3 nominees would contest in a public election.]

Article 243 (1) of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution referred to above states: “There shall be a District Chief Executive for every district who shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of not less than two-thirds majority of members of the Assembly present and voting at the meeting.”

Many Ghanaians have at various times expressed frustration with the non-performance and incompetence of some MMDCEs and have attributed the situation to the fact that MMDCEs feel accountable only to the President and not to the people they are appointed to serve. Some MMDCEs have therefore literally become tin gods, untouchables and very arrogant. In fact, on Monday, 29 September 2014, the District Chief Executive of Twifo Praso, Mr. Bossman Osei Hyeama was convicted and sentenced to 2 weeks in jail, for insulting a High Court Judge and the bailiff of the court of the Cape Coast High Court in the Central Region of Ghana.

It is for the reasons above, among others, that many Ghanaians who submitted proposals to the Constitution Review Commission wanted an amendment of Article 243 (1) to allow for MMDCEs to contest on their own merit and be popularly elected via public elections, as happens in many countries. Indeed, the two main political parties in Ghana (the ruling NDC and the opposition NPP) have at different times in the past campaigned on the promise to allow Ghanaians to directly vote for MMDCEs. It therefore came as a surprise when the present NDC government, through the White Paper on the Report of the Constitution Review Commission, effectively dressed up a big cat and called it a leopard.

Ghanaians who are calling for election of MMDCEs simply do not trust the judgement of our Presidents to appoint competent people to head our local authorities. Nominating 5 people and asking voters to elect 1 out of 3 is practically no different from the current practice, unless the constitutional amendment would also provide for voters to be able to select ‘None of the above’ during elections. In the case ‘None of the above’ wins, the President should then nominate a new set of 5 candidates out of which 3 will go into another election. The cost and absurdity of going through several election cycles means that such an option will simply not fly. Ghanaians should simply be allowed to directly vote for a Mayor or an MMDCE of who is able to present a clear plan of how to develop the local area, rather than one who the President imposes upon them (whether it is 1 person nominated as the current practice is, or 5 persons nominated under the new proposal). My personal view is that Ghanaians should reject the government’s proposal and insist on directly voting for our MMDCEs, who will then be accountable to us, not the President.

Timeline of events in Hong Kong


July 1997 - Hong Kong is handed back to Chinese authorities after more than 150 years of British control.

July 2003 – Half a million people spill onto Hong Kong's streets to protest against proposed anti-subversion laws. The government shelved the proposed legislation and they have not been re-introduced since.

April 2004 - China controversially rules out the possibility of universal suffrage in Hong Kong in 2007 and 2008, further slowing the pace of political reform. China also rules that its approval must be sought for any changes to Hong Kong's election laws, giving Beijing the right to veto any moves towards more democracy.
December 2007 - Beijing says it will allow the people of Hong Kong to directly elect their own leader in 2017 and their legislators by 2020.

July 2012 - Leung Chun-ying takes office as chief executive, succeeding Donald Tsang whose last months in office were dogged by controversy over his links with wealthy businessmen.

January 2013 - Occupy Central with Love and Peace campaign is initiated by law professor Benny Tai.

June 2014 - China's Cabinet issues a "white paper" policy document on Hong Kong underscoring China's sovereignty and ultimate authority over the city.

June 2014 - Nearly 800,000 people cast votes in an unofficial referendum calling for open nomination of candidates for the 2017 election, part of campaign branded illegal by the Hong Kong government and senior Chinese officials.
July 2014 - Hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters march through Hong Kong, calling for a genuinely democratic vote in 2017. Police arrest over 500 protesters who stage an overnight sit-in in the main business district.

August 2014 - Tens of thousands of pro-Beijing supporters stage a massive counter-protest against the Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign.

August 2014 - Anti-corruption officers raid home of Jimmy Lai, a media magnate and outspoken critic of Beijing who has supported pro-democracy activists through his publications and with donations.

August 2014 - The Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress rules out a fully democratic election for Hong Kong leader in 2017, by imposing tight rules on nominations of candidates who want to run in the poll.

September 24th - Students boycott classes, led peaceful marches to protest China's new plan for Hong Kong's 2017 election.

September 26th - Occupy Central joins protest.