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Opinions of Thursday, 25 January 2007

Columnist: Asare, Kwaku S.

NPP Prez Politics: Forget the Numbers Focus on Rules

NPP Presidential Politics: Should we Forget about the Number of Aspirants and Focus on the Rules of the Game?

At the last count, about 12 candidates had declared an interest in vying for the position of NPP Presidential candidate in the forthcoming general elections. Many commentators have decried these numbers and have argued that it could be inimical to the party’s electoral fortunes in 2008. Some have gone as far as suggesting criteria that must be used to prune down the number of contestants. In particular, the invincible hierarchy theory has gained currency. Under that theory, Presidential candidacy of the party is determined in an orderly fashion based on loyalty and length of service to the party. Thus, there is the Kuffuor et al. generation, to be succeeded by the Aliu et al. generation followed by the Botwe et al. generation, etc. Others have humorously called for a beauty pageant.

In my opinion, many of these commentaries are misplaced. The great question of the 2008 NPP Presidential nomination race is not whether there are too many candidates. The great question is whether the rules of the game will be fair to all the players. Candidates who compete and lose are likely to accept and respect the outcome if the rules of the game are perceived to be fair. Discontent, frustration, and ultimately rebellion, set in when the rules are perceived to be unfair or inuring to the advantage of some of the candidates while disfavoring other candidates. Therefore, I wish to refocus the debate on the rules of the game.

What then are the rules of the game? The rules of the game are governed by articles 12 and 6 (18) of the NPP constitution and article 55 of the national constitution. Under article 12 of the NPP constitution, the Party’s presidential candidate is elected by the national congress, “which shall comprise of (i) 10 delegates from each constituency; (ii) 1 representative of the Founding Members from each Region; (iii) 1 representative of the Patrons from each Region; and (v) 1 representative of each overseas branch of the Party that is entitled to send a representative to the National Delegates Conference.” Under article 55 (5) of the national constitution, “the internal organization of a political party shall conform to democratic principles.”

Article 12 raises the following questions: (1) how are the 10 delegates chosen in each constituency? (2) Why is the size of the delegation equal across constituencies varying in strength? (3) Who are the founding members and patrons and how are their representatives chosen? (4) What entitles an overseas branch to send a representative to the congress?

How are the delegates chosen in each constituency?

Clearly, the 2,300 delegates from the constituencies hold the key to winning the nomination and the nomination campaign, therefore, is about winning the majority of these delegates. Yet, the NPP constitution is not very clear on the process by which the delegates are chosen and how the delegates are to vote at the congress. Per article 6 (18) “every constituency executive committee shall convene an extraordinary constituency delegates conference to elect, when required, 6 members of the constituency who are not constituency Officers, together with 4 constituency officers, to be the 10 delegates of the constituency to attend the national congress.”

That article tells us the composition of the delegation but is notoriously unhelpful on the critical issues of how the elected delegates are to vote at the national congress or who is entitled to vote at this extraordinary constituency delegates’ conference (ECDC). This omission is significant because there are alternative approaches that could lead to very different outcomes.

For instance, elected delegates can be viewed as free agents. Under this view, an elected delegate is free to cast a vote for any Presidential candidate of the delegate’s choosing. On the other hand, elected delegates can be viewed as constituency agents. Here, the delegate represents the constituency and must vote for a Presidential candidate designated by the constituency. This also requires a formula for determining the candidate of choice for the constituency. Lastly, elected delegates can be viewed as “candidates’ agents.” Here, each delegate is presumed to be pledged to a particular Presidential candidate and must vote for that candidate at the congress. This option also requires a formula for allocating delegates to the Presidential candidates. Typically, delegates are awarded based on the proportion of votes won at the ECDC or a winner takes all approach. To illustrate, if candidate Kofi Mensah wins 60% of the votes cast at the ECDC, then he is entitled to 6 of the 10 delegates (proportional approach) or all 10 delegates (winner takes all approach).

Who gets to vote at the ECDC is also equally important although not clearly specified by the constitution or convention. Ideally, all card-carrying members of the constituency will be entitled to vote at the ECDC. This is the “one man one vote” principle and it allows all card carrying members to participate fully in the institutions of the party. Further, if this approach is coupled with the “candidates’ agent” approach, it will compel the Presidential aspirants to communicate with all Party members rather than just the delegates. Allowing all card carrying members to vote at the ECDC is not a novel idea in NPP. For instance, all card-bearing and paid up members in good standing in the polling station are entitled to vote in polling station executive elections.

In reality, however, not all card-carrying members have been allowed to vote in the past Presidential nominating elections, resulting in occasional complaints of impositions and calls for reform. Thus, the current model is a top down approach where delegates are selected by a somewhat mysterious process. These delegates then vote for a Presidential candidate who is imposed on the rank and file of the party.

This top down approach is fair only to the extent that the delegates can be expected to reflect the popularity of the candidates at the constituency level. Otherwise the delegates become free agents whose interests cannot be expected to align with the constituents that they represent.

Such a misalignment will manifest in various dysfunctional effects. First, rather than compete on ideas to woo the rank and file of the party members, rational candidates will simply focus on winning the 10 delegates in each constituency. Second, a market for the buying of delegates will result. In this market, delegates will sell promises to vote to the candidates. Third, debates among the candidates, which are sine qua non for identifying competent candidates, will rarely occur since the candidates will seek to talk to only the delegates. Fourth, a process which selects candidates based on “bribing” delegates will produce Presidential candidates who are unable to effectively address corruption, which is the major challenge for growing the economy. Fifth, candidates who lose in such a game are unlikely to respect the outcome and will likely rebel unless they enter into side agreements with the winning candidates.

The ideal model for selecting a Presidential candidate is a bottom-up approach. Under that approach, the aspirants present their case to the card carrying members in the various constituencies. Based on this presentation, the card carrying members cast a vote at the ECDC. Delegates are then awarded to the candidates based on the number of votes that they garner in the constituency primary.

Why is the size of the delegation equal across constituencies varying in strength?

Other than its apparent simplicity, the case for having equal number of delegates from each of the constituencies is not easy to make. It is true that a Presidential candidate must campaign and try to win votes in each constituency making it necessary to have campaign structures in each constituency. But that truth must not be allowed to overshadow the other truth, which is that the strength of the party’s membership is not equal across constituencies. Why should constituency X with 250,000 paid up NPP supporters have the same number of delegates as constituency Y and Z each with 10,000 paid up NPP members? Or more poignantly, is candidate X who wins 100% of the votes in constituency X less preferable to candidate Y who wins 100% of the votes in constituency Y and Z? Yet, under a system that awards delegates based on how well they do in a constituency, candidate Y will be awarded 20 delegates while candidate X takes 10 delegates. The equal distribution game is not equitable and trades political and party reality for simplicity. We must recognize that constituencies are arbitrary creatures of the EC and do a little more recordkeeping to determine the size of a constituency delegation. A possible solution is to award delegates based on the number of card carrying members in a constituency.

Who are the founding members and patrons and how are their representatives chosen?

Under the current rules of the game, the founding members and patrons are allowed to send a total of 20 delegates to the Presidential nomination congress. Who are these founding members and patrons, how do they select their delegation, and what, if any, voting instructions do they give to their delegations?

Per the NPP constitution, the founding members are (i) “the signatories of the documents presented to the electoral commission for the registration of the Party,” and (ii) “all those who contributed substantially in various ways to the sustenance of the Party from 1992 to 1998.” Patrons are “members who undertake to contribute to the national fund of the Party for the support of the Party’s organization such extra levies as the Party may impose form time to time.”

The constitution provides that the founders and patrons will each send 1 representative of from each of the ten regions. We are not told how they should go about selecting these representatives presumably because this is not the business of the ordinary members. We are also not told why they are allowed 20 delegates but one can readily surmise that it is the party’s token of appreciation to our founders and our financiers.

To evaluate this privilege, imagine the 1st republican constitution, with a provision stipulating that the Big Six will be entitled to super voting rights because of their role in founding the country, assuming we can even agree that they founded the country. In my opinion, there is no reason to allow these founders special voting rights in perpetuity. A certificate acknowledging their role in resuscitating the UP liberal tradition, which was formally frozen by the December 31st 1981 coup, will suffice. Second, even if we can agree that the founders are entitled to super voting rights, we must subject those rights to a sunset provision (i.e., automatically repealed on a specific date). This is because the provision becomes more oppressive over time as the membership of the founding fathers declines, as it is bound to because of death. For similar reasons, while acknowledging and appreciative of the role of the patrons, I do not think it is necessary for them to be given any special voting rights at the nomination congress.

What entitles an overseas branch to send a representative to the congress?

Under article 12, each “accredited” overseas branch is entitled to send a voting representative to the nomination congress. An overseas branch becomes “accredited” if it is able to prove that it has a minimum of 100 dues-paying members. Thus, if you reside in LALAND along with 99 other Ghanaians, you can create an accredited overseas branch as long as you can get the Ghanaians there to pay their dues, as determined by the branch. Moreover, you are entitled to the same number of delegates (1) as Atta Krufi’s UK branch, even though that branch boasts of a dues-paying membership of 100,000, which incidentally is also larger than most constituencies in Ghana. Again this requirement is simplistic and patently unfair.

What is Internal Democracy?

Article 55 of the national constitution commands all political parties to conform their “internal organization” to “democratic principles.” The Supreme Court of Ghana is yet to delineate the boundaries of this command. It is, of course, always a hazardous task to predict what our Supreme Court will make of the constitution. But a case could easily be made that conforming a political party’s internal organization to democratic principles may require the party to elect its Presidential (and Parliamentary) candidate under the principle of one man one vote. If so, a model that does not allow all card carrying members to vote for the Presidential candidate may be deemed to be unconstitutional.

Conclusion

To maintain our party’s unity we must ensure that all members can participate fully in the institutions of the party. In particular, the choice of the 2008 Presidential candidate must be based on the principle of “one man one vote.” Thus, all card carrying members must be allowed to vote in the forthcoming ECDC and the results of that vote must be used to allocate delegates to the nominating congress. This is the only way to ensure a level playing field for all the candidates and to ensure that the candidates engage in a campaign of ideas targeted to the party’s entire membership rather than a campaign of cedis targeted at the delegates. Incidentally, only such an open primary system holds any promise of curbing the number of Presidential aspirants. For the task of winning 6 delegates per constituency appears much simpler than the task of winning the majority of registered NPP members per constituency. The apparent ease of the current selection approach accounts for the number of Presidential aspirants. In our 5th election cycle, we can and must demand better.

Professor S. Kwaku Asare,
New Achimota


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