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Opinions of Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Columnist: Kofi Amenyo

My party right or wrong - excessive partisanship is killing us in Ghana

If this were all just a game, we would laugh over it. But in our country, excessive partisanship has become a life and death thing for some people. This is our idea of democracy: you shall not see a single good thing right with your opponents and you shall see nothing that can be wrong with your own party. But all our politicians are cut from the same cloth – the same Ghanaian society. They have the same ambitions and pursue similar personal goals.

Most Ghanaians are not card carrying members of any party. This does not mean they do not sympathise with one party. The true non-partisan voter is rare. It is just human nature to align oneself to one party.

In Ghana, the largest force driving many people to align themselves one way or the other is not ideological. It is tribal or what a voter perceives he or she can personally gain from supporting one party rather than the other.

For the party hierarchy, stalwarts, cadres and the so-called foot soldiers the stakes are really not about Ghana but about their personal private gains. For many, political office is a salvation as they will be nothing without it in their ordinary lives.

There are three principal reasons ANYBODY enters politics in Ghana: personal financial gain, lust for power, and the desire for the prestige associated with power. Of course, on the stump, they say something else. Yes, every Ghanaian will want to see the country developed. But selfless service to nation very rarely comes before personal gains.

Those who make a lot of noise for one party are often people who stand to gain personally when the party they are rooting for comes to power. Each party has a core group of non-flexible voters who are unconvinced by any propaganda from the other side. They expect to get jobs and money when their party comes to power.

To be sure, the egoism of politicians is a worldwide thing. Even in Europe, politicians no longer put what is right on top of their agendas. They now think first of what will benefit their personal political careers. The welfare of the people comes second. Even the social democrats - a political tradition built on the sweat of labour, follow this trend.

The long period in which we have enjoyed truly elective politics (more than 20 years) has entrenched the phenomenon of politics as a career. Today, there are many young men and women in parliament who have done no other work than that of politics. They entered politics directly from school. In the past, coups cut down political careers. Today, it is possible that some politicians can be in parliament for 30 or 40 years (like in the US congress) and politics will ever be the only work they know. It is a very lucrative profession! That is why it attracts all sorts of unsavoury characters.

Our bright and young who could be doing well in business, industry or technology if the economy were good, now turn to politics – or date rich married men.

Today, we are witnessing the politicization of everything in our society. There are no longer professional ambassadors. All of them are party hacks who get appointed as rewards for their loyalty to the party. Yes, every country does this but we carry it to its most negative ends. We have built a system driven on favours and personal connections.

The renaming of the Flagstaff House is a purely partisan act. The NDC vows to rename it when they come to power. Partisanship determines many things in Ghana now – board memberships, chairmanships, professorships of state institutions, etc. The civil service, which should be above politics, has been thoroughly politicized. Even our history is being brazenly re-written to reflect partisan and tribal colours.

We have a government whose policy actions are mainly geared at winning the next elections. It is always in campaign mode. The free SHS, a fine policy in principle, was implemented in a hurry mainly to win a political point.

There are now three major polarizations in our country: between the two major parties, between the rich and the poor and, unfortunately, the one always lurking in the background between the dominant Akans and the larger group of non-Akan Ghanaians.

One of the things which make the fight so bitter is the antiquated first past the post winner takes all electoral system we inherited from the British. This brings about a win-at-all-costs mentality. Even narrow losers of elections are left completely without any rewards unless they can align themselves with the winners to benefit from the spoils system we have created.

What shall we do? We need a new constitution that will reduce the powers of the president especially in making appointments. There should be a constitutional limit on the size of the executive. We need to reinforce civil service rules to make the service completely apolitical. Heads of para-statals must have fixed-term contracts that cannot be terminated by a change of government. Excessive executive power may slide into presidential dictatorship hiding under the garb of democracy. This tendency is exacerbated by the predisposition of our people to give “fanfoo” respect to those in authority for personal gains. This kind of imperial presidency is dangerous since our institutions are not strong enough to check any excesses.

We should consider a one-time presidency. Anyone who fails to get re-elected on the trot should not have another chance later on. In other countries, such a practice is followed by convention. In our country we have to make a rule to force people to observe it. With such a rule in place, Mahama will not now be scheming to be president again. He is suffering from that African malaise of hanging on to power which was also exhibited by Akufo-Addo in his persistent quest to become president. They tell us that the “teeming supporters” want them to stand again. And so what? As if there is a shortage of people wanting to rule us.

We should also consider an upper age limit of 70 for political offices including the presidency itself! An elected office holder can be in office beyond 70 only if he was elected before he reached 70. If the pension age in our country is 60, it is unfair to have politicians staying in power beyond 73.

The most daring reform we can make is to introduce some form of proportional representation beginning with lower levels of government. This will be difficult for us to do but it may reduce the power of the two major political parties as it brings other actors into the fray. This may stop the emasculation of third parties. I hope that DCEs in the next elections will be elected and not appointed as the president promised.

We should all realise that governance is an intricate thing. It is far easier to be outside and criticise than be in the seat and take the decisions yourself. For instance, many economic decisions are “leaps in the dark” with success depending on unforeseen circumstances in the future. Even the best policy at the time it is started may fail during implementation. There is nothing partisan about some of these things. Fortunately, many Ghanaians know this and will not allow themselves to be swayed by propaganda. That is why the efforts of those bland fanatics trying to force a unified narrative of the development process on us will fail. Saying only my party can deliver Ghana from its woes is just crude propaganda. It is also intellectually sterile.

In times of crises, great nations put partisan interests aside and form a national consensus around the major problems of the day. The extreme form of this is the formation of a national government to meet the challenge. It seems our country is neither a great nation nor one facing any crisis. That is why we continue with the same old ways and hope to get different results.