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Opinions of Friday, 25 June 2010

Columnist: Otchere-Darko, Gabby Asare

Mpiani's Vuvuzela Of Imposition

Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko

The Chronicle reported on its front page of yesterday, (Wednesday, June 22) that former Chief of Staff, Kwadwo Mpiani, cautions party executives of the opposition New Patriotic Party not to impose any of the five candidates aspiring to lead the party, on delegates who would be exercising their franchise in the party's August showdown to elect a leader.

That first paragraph was oxymoronic enough to tell me there was something basically wrong. The NPP has not made anything akin to a 'Swedru Declaration'. It gave notice and opened nominations for over a month, closed nominations, vetted the five people who applied and has okayed all five candidates to campaign freely to contest on August 7 for the party's presidential nomination for 2012.

So with five contestants the issue of imposition is effectively mute. If there is an imposition then it is to give a very generous interpretation to the natural kind that decision-makers have no choice but to select from the few people from a society who are brave and confident enough to put themselves up for any competition - being it a beauty pageant or a political contest. But, since that will be stretching it, let us continue...

"Whenever I meet the executives, I tell them to not impose any candidate on the delegates. They should let them decide on their own as to who should lead the party. It is very dangerous if you impose a candidate on the delegates," Mr Mpiani says, adding, "In case a different candidate, other than the one that we impose on the delegates wins, how do you work with that fellow?”

Upon reading the Chronicle report, my first reaction was to ask, in soliloquy, is this the same Kwadwo Mpiani who was President Kufuor's Chief of Staff? Did they not a preferred candidate in 2007? The point here, mind you, is not even to criticise that decision of President Kufuor to have a preferred choice but to emphasise on the hypocrisy of his former Chief of Staff.

With all the machinery of state behind them, the allegiance of Ministers, DCEs and the lot, were they able to push (or impose) their preferred candidate on the party notably at the time that delegates numbered only 10 per constituency? Should Mr Mpiani not know better by now that in the party that he should know better than most of us, candidates have not been imposed in the past? Or is it that he knows something that the rest of us don't know?

What does Mr Mpiani mean by imposition? Is an imposition complete if it fails in the process? An imposition, ordinarily defined means the act of imposing, laying on, affixing, enjoining, compelling to, inflicting on, obtruding, and the like. To impose a presidential candidate on delegates means to force or inflict an unwelcome or unwanted candidate on delegates and leaving them with no choice but a rigid obligation to vote for that imposed candidate.

The rules as I know it is that the August 7 primary will take place simultaneously in 230 centres in all 230 constituencies across the land. Each candidate is allowed to have the same number of polling agents. Each delegate has a single, secret vote. The elections will be conducted and supervised by the Electoral Commission. It will take place in an open place in broad daylight.

The most significant element against imposition in this exercise is that the vote of every delegate is secret. Is Mr Mpiani suggesting that the free conscience of the 115,000 or so delegates is somewhat prone to imposition?

Yes, 115,000 delegates will be voting on August 7. Not, 15, not 150, not 1,500, not 15,000, not 50,000 - a whole one hundred and fifteen thousand people will be taking individual decisions on August 7 on who should lead their party to victory in 2012.

Ironically, Mr Mpiani makes an unintended contradiction of his own fatidic alarmism by conceding, "The most dangerous thing in politics is perception. Somebody may tell you this or that about a particular candidate, but it behoves on you the individual to find out whether those things are true or not.”

If, indeed, he believes it is up to his party's delegates to weigh up the facts and campaign messages to make up their own individual minds then where is he allocating his fear and where can we locate the basis of that trepidation?

Unless, he is suggesting that his party delegates do not possess the intellectual measurement scale to weigh for themselves who represents their best choice for victory in 2012. The candidates are free to meet all the delegates to get their respective messages across for the delegates to make an informed choice on August 7. It is up to the candidates to be able to 'impose' their message with all the force of persuasion they can muster in the hearts and minds of a majority of the 115,000 decision-makers.

What is happening today is a marked improvement to the system which projected or reduced Kwadwo Mpiani's preferred candidate(s) to victory or defeat in the past.

In 1992, 1996, 1998, and 2007 - in any of those earlier presidential primaries of the NPP when the highest number of delegates who had the franchise and cast their votes did not hit 2,300 - Mr Mpiani, apparently, did not see any threat of imposition then. Today that the electoral college has been massively expanded by some 14,000% he wants us to accept in good faith that he has the extraterrestrial intelligence and apocalyptic intercession to warn his party of pending doom via imposition.

Ghanaians cannot forget that in the heat of the exciting campaign last year for the electoral college of the NPP to be expanded, among other constitutional reforms, Kwadwo Mpiani came out publicly to campaign against the expansion. He even threatened to take the party to court (he did not do so in the end).

The irony is that the status quo which he sought to actively defend and maintain in 2009 posed a far more probable threat for imposition of delegates than this new electoral college. That is not to suggest that presidential candidates of the past did not win fairly. My own view is that the man of the moment has always triumphed in NPP presidential primaries when all was said and done.

Nevertheless, the old system, like what exist currently in all the other parties, was controversially susceptible to some level of abuse by bullies of constituency chairpersons, MPs, DCEs, Ministers, etc, for example, to decide which ten delegates may represent a constituency in a national congress to elect a presidential candidate.

Today, that discretion is done away with because every party executive - from national officers to polling station executives - are ex officio delegates. Delegates are preselected by virtue of the office they hold. It is that which Mpiani preferred which would have given some credence to his pythonic fear of imposition.

It is that which would have allowed a few people to decide in favour of the mass of foot soldiers who do the actual electioneering leg work that could have been described effectively as imposition.

Then the over 5,000 polling station executives across the land had no choice but to market the candidate that the 2,000 or so men and women of 'higher intelligence' chose for them.

It is that system which exposed the smaller band of delegates to undue financial inducement. It is that which made some candidates with very little chance of success fool themselves into thinking that they could 'buy' their way to victory.

It is that which created that negative perception of ayefe-notse (greedy bastards) mindset in non-delegates rank and file members of the party; eventually causing widespread resentment among the non-benefiting polling station executives who are eventually depended on to do the door-door campaign.

Today, the NPP has expanded significantly the pool of decision-makers to be predominantly constituted of all polling station executives and a new group of electoral area coordinators with each in charge of about 10 polling stations. This grassroots participation in decision-making is designed to ensure that the popular choice of the party as a whole is chosen to lead it in a presidential election. That same principle has also been extended to parliamentary primaries by expanding the electoral college there, as well.

Mr Mpiani's seemingly unsolicited interview with the Chronicle appears to follow a pattern of fructose alarmism that is developing within the NPP. It is a symptom of a new excessive caloric consumption of my-way-or-no-way intra-political diet that is eating into Ghana's political parties across board. It must be dealt with but in a legitimate manner. They may have genuine fears even if driven by other considerations and therefore misplaced. But, they must be expressed in good faith to allow for a conducive atmosphere for resolutions where possible.

Four friends of mine in the mass media (both print and radio) this week forwarded to my phone an sms message sent to them. The composer of the text message, a known person in one of the NPP presidential camps, was, as usual, bold enough to put his name to it.

The text reads: "The other CAMP is preparing to rig the NPP presidential elections. Is [sic] history going to repeat itself? U bet it must be stopped. Join the crusade to restore credibility to NPP elections."

I asked myself yesterday, are these people not happy that over the last four or so weeks the mass media have been free of intra-NPP squabbles? Does that give them the cold turkey? or, are they simply preparing the ground to discredit an inevitable but undesired outcome?

What this tells me - a relative newcomer in the ugly, negative rigmarole of Ghanaian multiparty democracy at play, is that there are big and must-know-better people in our political parties who would only consider as fair a primary victory for their preferred candidate. That, there could be people who may be prepared to sit it out for another four years if victory was not sectionally theirs in who became their party's flag bearer. Frankly, I don't want to believe this as a likelihood and even if it is then it is only entertained by a very small number who run the risk of sectioning themselves out of political relevance.

After all, the NPP, for one, was quite recently the ruling party that was able to accept defeat in an election which had its fair share of problems and was determined by less than 0.5% of votes cast. Surely, they can be trusted to accept the outcome of their own primaries?

But, what it does say is that problems, such as the ultra-negative extras of intra-party competition, are usually engineered from the top. For a man of the calibre of Mr Mpiani to raise such an unnecessary alarm of imposition at this time that all hands and cash must be actively on deck to ensure that the August 7 event is resourced and efficiently conducted to be free, fair, transparent, and successful, is what is rather alarming, in my view.

The NPP should not forget that what they are doing on August 7 is a significant contribution to Africa's multi-party democracy. It will, if successful, result in the largest sampling possible for determining the popularity of whoever will emerge eventually as the party's presidential candidate. It is a major stimulant for empowering the grassroots and it must be helped to succeed.

Other political parties are watching with the hope of learning from this exercise. NPP should not lose sight of this and the imperatives of their own internal unity by actively working to protect and promote the integrity of this useful experiment. Let them reduce the volume on the vuvuzela of alarmism.

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