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Opinions of Sunday, 18 September 2016

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Mrs. Charlotte Osei and the Abrokyire vote

By George Sydney Abugri

Democracy is nothing but a case of two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch, or so Ben Franklin said. H. L. Menecken did even bet¬ter, arguing that democ¬racy is nothing but a political system under which one political party "devotes its chief ener¬gies" trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule.

The irony, Menecken notes, is that both parties often succeed in proving their common point. They are both often right in their perception of one another!
That leaves us with a warning about the need for discernment regarding what political leaders and their supporters tell us about one another, and the motives behind their respective actions and pursuits.

We in the media are expected to help the citizen¬ry make informed decisions and choices that promote democracy, but we are our¬selves reeling under a bar¬rage of bitter criticisms: We are dividing the good old country, inflicting irrepara¬ble injury on reputations, maligning saints, bugging every telephone in sight and polluting juvenile intellect with terrible grammar and distorted views of the reali¬ty around them.

I have been asking people for their honest opinions about the media in Ghana today. Some people think that the awesome power of the media is being unduly expended on political propa¬ganda and in the process, making the mundane, petty, trivial and irrelevant appear to be of the greatest importance to our people.

Yet another view: The media is these days dis¬tracting Ghanaians from crucial national concerns and, dissipating the energies needed for development. Someone said, "Journalism in this country has become too manipulative. That kind of journalism is a nuisance with the potential to be destructive. "

All the same, some argue, the press as it is now is certainly better than no press at all. How anything could ever be deemed better than what does not exist has not been explained.

Others advance the same view in different words, declaring that a bad press is better than none. There again, how could bad ever be better than any¬thing? Never mind though, for we remain steadfastly on the block, for better or worse. Whether folks like it or not we make the world go round. The government knows it and so does the opposition.

That is why someone sent me a message the other day urging me to campaign for the right of Ghanaians abroad to vote in national elections. When the move was made years ago to get parliament to pass the Representa¬tion of the People (Amend¬ment) Bill, it was met with stiff opposition. If passed, the new law would allow Ghanaians in the Diaspora to vote in national elections.

The debate about the bill was a simmering murk, more like the first stages of vol¬canic action preceding an eruption: Arguments for and against passage of the bill started from the funda¬mental issue of the constitu¬tional right of Diaspora Ghanaians to vote, through concerns about logistics and security against electoral fraud, to challenges posed by matters of geography.

Virtually, everyone conceded the constitu¬tionally-guaranteed civic right of every adult Ghana¬ian citizen in the Diaspora to vote at national elections. Most have, however, pointed out that there are about a thousand, five hundred and twenty-three unanswered questions about the Repre¬sentation of the People (Amendment) Bill:

How are polling stations going to be strategically located across Australia and New Zealand, Africa and the Mediterranean, Asia, Europe, South America, Canada, Central America and the United States? For example, are Ghanaians going to congregate in Washington and New York from across that incredibly vast continent-state known as the United States or are polling stations going to be set up throughout the US?

Are postal and electronic voting which have proved vulnerable to fraud in the US going to be tried?

Who will supervise the elections? Will the opposi¬tion have confidence in the impartiality of the electoral officers, if they are foreign mission officials?

How are the results going to be collated? Are there resources adequate enough to ensure that every Ghanaian living in every corner of the globe has an opportunity to vote?

Amid the debate, a group of Ghanaians living in the US and Canada breezed into town to canvass public support for the passage of the bill.

A Diaspora Vote Com¬mittee as it was called produced a docu¬ment on its campaign.

The document sum¬marizes the arguments for and against the passage of the bill without amendments, but the concerns of the political opposition at home was only casually addressed and dismissed as untenable or insignificant.

Some critics of the bill had argued that rights go with responsibilities and that to grant Diaspora Ghanaians the right to vote when they do not pay taxes is discriminatory against Ghanaians living at home.

To this, the group argued that proof of an individual's payment of taxes was is not a requirement to vote in an election anywhere in the world. Besides they argued Ghanaians abroad remit huge sums of money to Ghana.

Some critics of the bill said that personal remit¬tances from Ghanaians abroad did not constitute a meeting of citizens' tax obligations in lieu of taxation.

They argued that the value of remittances from Ghanaians abroad, no matter how impressive in foreign exchange terms, was not as significant if considered against the economic value lost to the state as a result of Ghanaians diverting their skills and services to foreign countries!

The Bill was eventually passed but is yet to be effected. The US-based advocacy group, Progressive Alliance Movement has sued the Electoral Commission for failing to implement the Representation of the People Amendment Law (ROPAL), to allow Ghanaians abroad the right to vote. What will happen to the suit? That remains to be seen.

Website: www.sydneyabugri.com/Web