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Opinions of Friday, 10 March 2006

Columnist: Abdul Musah

ROPAB: How NPP is recreating Ivory Coast in Ghana.

This article seeks to argue that ROPAB has so many institutional, and administrative defects. It passage is a recipy for disaster and mayhem. It has the tendency of producing West Africa's new Ivory Coast. The article rejects the notion that extending voting to Ghanaians abroad is a matter of constitutional rights, it argues that placing billot boxes in foreign lands for Ghanaians to vote is matter of privilage. It also disagrees with the argument that the status is in violation of anyones voting right. .

The arguments of the majority NPP that they are creating an avenue for Ghanaians living abroad to cast their franchise by extending boxes to the world over is a floored one. As the 1992 constitution did not deny Ghanaians living abroad the rights to vote. The constitution provided three qualifications for voting in Ghanaian elections. First one must be a citizen of Ghana, second must of 18 years or above, and third must be of sound mind. The bone of contention is whether by asking Ghanaians abroad to return home and exercise this right at every election is a violation of their right to participate in the political process. The NPP and its majority in parliament think it is. It is the postulation of this article that it is not a violation of the contitution to demand of Ghanaians abroad to register and vote only in Ghana and not their countries of residence. Extention billot boxes the world over for Ghanaians to vote is a matter of privilage and not of right. At our current economic and political development Ghana cannot afford to engage in such expensive and volatile political action. I wonder why a government would make such a privilage a priority that override important national issues such as the FCUB, the economy, and corruption.

The laws of Ghana did not make voting rights a compulsion. Thus a Ghanaian could decide whether to exercise his or her right to vote or otherwise. If a Ghanaian voluntarily decides to leave the shores of Ghana and seek an abode somewehere, it should not be a matter of agency that certain rights enjoyed by Ghanaians resident in Ghana be extended to him at his place of abode. Also, because voting is not by compulsion in Ghanaian law, we can not assume that Ghana is denying its citizens abroad the right to vote by not facilitating or providing avenues for their voting. In fact any citizen of Ghana who want to exercise this right could fly back and register to vote at election period. This explains why the constitution did not mandate the government to move billot boxes to every citizen's residence for him to excercise this right. If a Ghanaian in Ghana is interested in voting he or her moves to a polling division, joins a queue, and wait for her turn to vote. The constitution of Ghana also provides for a Free and Compulsory Basic Education. Is the Government of Ghana required by law to extend this right to Ghanaians abroad? This writer thinks the government is not. Because once you leave the shore of Ghana you are not governed by Ghanaians laws. The same argument could be advance with regards to FCUB. If a Ghanaian wants his or her child to enjoy the benefit of FCUB, it is incumbent on that Ghanaian to take the innitiative by taking his or her children back to Ghana to benefit from the constitutional provision. Suffice it to say that the very government that is so keen on extending voting rights to Ghanaians abroad is not interested in providing Ghanaian children in private schools in Ghana the benefits of FCUB. As stated earlier, I wonders the priorities of this government and its agenda. Is voting by Ghanaians who choose to leave abroad more important than the educational righs of Ghanaian kids in Ghana? It may be recalled that as soon as the opposition in parliament raised this argument last year, the government was quick to run through a bill to implement FCUB. Whether Ghanaian kids have starting enjoying this constitutional right is another big subject of discussion that this article did not purport

The Motive of ROPAB and the implications for subquent election.

The Representation of Peoples Amemdment Bill as proposed by the NPP was ill conceived. The rush with which the NPP pushed the ROPAB bill is very suspect, to say the least. Sources close to this writer indicates that the innitial intention of the Government was to start implementing this bill as a pilot program in the UK in 2008. This is because the government believed that it enjoys more support in the United Kingdom than other parties in the country. It is also the view of the NPP that given the results of the 2004 election and inspite of their advantage as an incumbent party their major opponent (NDC) was able to finish the election with a respectful 47% that they were not able to achieve when they were faced with an incumbent NDC president, their likely to lose to the NDC in 2008 is more real than they had imagined before the 2004 election.

Indeed the ruling party did commission an investigation into the outcome of the election in Brong Ahafo. It is also their conviction that the only reason they won in 2004 was because of the Western and Central region votes, and voters in these two regions are swing voters. It is therefore their view that something needs to done in case the result of the 2008 election tilts against their party. It is important to note that the NPP knew before hand of the implementation challenges facing this ROPAB. Having known these challanges, their intention is to forced the EC into starting a pilot program in the UK to satisfiy their original intentions.

The proponents of this bill also argued that because other countries in Africa including Mali, Senegal among others allow their citizens abroad to vote, Ghana should also do same. This is a very unfortunate argument in the sense that those countries already have a credible ways of citizenship idenfication. Citizens of Mali and Senegal since their colonial days have a National ID card system that distinguish their citizens from non citizens. The way Passports are issued in those countries is less corrupt and less foreign infiltrated than ours because of the system of National ID card.

Comparing Ghana to Canadians and the Americans is also floored assumption. They can afford to allow their citizen abroad to vote because they have a credible way of identifying themselves even when they are abroad. I had the honour and the opportunity of working with my ridding's (In Canada a ridding is what we refer to as a Constituency in Ghana) Member of Canadian Parliament. I am pleased to say that he was re-elected in the just ended Canadian federal elections. Canada's electoral commission has a link to the country's ministry of Citizenship. Voters register are usual matched with citizenship list to ensure that registered voters are first and foremost Canadian Citizens and second of voting age before the final list of registered voters is compiled. Every Canadian has a unique social insurance number that is issued at birth. If one becomes a Canadian citizen or Landed immigrant this number changes. Those who legally enter Canada such as students, refugees, and temporary works are also issue with this number. Theirs usually start with the number "9" which means that their status in Canada is only temporary. With the social number number system Eelections Canada is able to distingush their citizens from foreigners. This number is use for employment, tax returns, medical insurance, passport applications, student applications etc. Naturalized Canadian citizens are issued with Citizenship ID card that is also used as a form of identification. In Ghana we do not have these process in place.

In fact we can not distinguish an Ezemah of Ghanaian origin from Ezemah of Ivoirian citizenship, so could we not distinguist Ewes from Togo and those in Ghana or a Guruma from Burkinaso and those in Ghana, and or Konkobas from Togo and those of Ghana. The difference is that they speak French and we speak English. What if an Ivoirian or a Togolese learn to speak English? By virtue of learning English he or she automatically could by default claim to be a Ghanaian Citizen. The chances of challanging this kind of Ghanaian citizenship is almost zero.

Successive Ghanaian leaders have failed to deal with this critical issue, which could go a long to affect our national security and soveignty as a nation, for fears of offending a section of society. During the second republic the Ghanaian government under Dr K. A. Busia attempted to put this issue to rest by starting the national ID Card system. But this loudable effort was derailed by the Allian Compliance.Act that was used to offend northerners and those in our Zongos. Over the years Ghanaian governments have ignored this issue. It is the view of this writer that in order to successefully implement ROPAB, Ghana needs a total overhaul of our citizenship process and the process of issuing valid Ghanaian documents. The status quo is a recipy for disaster. Even in mainland Ghana the process of identifying Ghanaians for voting purposes poses a serious credibilty challenge to our electoral system. In 1992 and 1996 this issue was one of the key concerns of the NPP. It was one of their argument in a report (Stolen Verdict) the NPP published against the 1992 election. It was for this same that the party boycotted parliament in 1992. Before the 2000 elections the NPP was concern about Togolese infiltration into our electoral system to vote. In fact President Kuffour then an opposition candidate was able to convince the late President Eyademah of Togo to shut down the Togolese side of the boader to avert this infiltration.

There is also an issue of who manages the election process if Ghanaians abroad are allowed to vote. The NPP contends that the Electoral Commission of Ghana mandates our missions abroad to perform this duty on its behalf. First, heads of Ghanaian missions are political appointees appointed by the government in power via the President. Second, these missionary have a vested interest in the outcome of the elections. and third, because they are members of the rulling government and report directly to the President through the foreign minister their ability to be fair to all parties in an election is compromised. Last but not the least, Ghanaian political parties other than rulling party have no representation in our missions abroad. Imagine the Ghanaian High Commissioner in Canada, who was himself a past NPP general secretary supervising Presidential elections for Ghanaians in Canada? How "cool" would that be for the NPP?

Recreating the Ivory Coast in Ghana:

For a government that parades itself as the peacemaker in the sub-region and across the continent, conditions that creat the kind of situations such as those of the Ivory Coast should have been the government's encyclopaedia that it consults every now and then and learns the lesson therein. On the contray the NPP government is creating the very conditions that disstabilized Cote D'Ivoire and created the political and economic mess that the Ivory Coast finds itself. To be a good peacemaker one should abreast himself of the conditions that creat war, say a wiseman. The kind of politics advocated for by the famous German Philosopher, Von Clauswits that "politics is war through other means", and that political opponent should be treated like enermies in combats that should wiped out completely or silienced was the philosophy that underlined the mayhem in the Ivory Coast. And it is the same philosophical approach to governancet that is showing it ugly heads in recent Ghanaian politics.

How did the Ivorian government used this approach? How is the government in Ghana whether knowingly or unknowingly applying this approach? The Ivorian situation started with the supression of oppositions rights and ignoring the views of stakeholders in matters of politics and elections. The Ivorian leadership under Henri Konan Bedie used the Law to supress the rights of the opposion led by Alassane Dramane Ouattara. Mr Ouattara had served his country as the Foreign Minister and later Prime Minister under the government of late Felix Houphouet Boibgny. When Mr Houphouet Boibgny died in the early 1990s and was succeeded by Henri Konan Bedie, many people in the ruling PDCI (Democratic Party of Cote D'Ivoire) were unhappy. This resulted in the formation of Mr. Outtara's Rally of Republicans party (in French Rassemblement des Republicaines). Having served as Prime Minister of the country for over a decade Mr Ouattara was certainly more popular among Ivorian than Mr Bedie. When election was announced in 1995, Mr Outtara offered himseilf as a candidate of his party. To offset his unpopularity, Bedie used the PDCI dominated parliament to effect a change in the Ivorian law that ban Mr Outtara from contesting elections in the Ivory Coast. Mr Outtara's party, which is also the largest opposition in country, boycotted the elections and Mr Konan Bedie won. The result of the election were disputed by the opposition.

This led to a long battle in Ivorian society that final ended up in the supreme court . As the rulling government Bedie's party appointed all the judges on the bench and as expected, the court affirms the constitutional change and the dispute continued. Mr. Bedie was able to hold on to power until December 31, 1999 when his government was overthrown by General Robert Guel in a bloodless coup d'tat, the very first in the then West Africa's most stable and properous country. Before he was overthrown, Mr Bedie was adviced by several stakeholders in country, including foreign leaders such as Ghana's former President J.J. Rawlings, former President of Senegal, and among several others. Bedie ignored their advice. When his government was overthrown he asked the same leaders whose advice he ignored to intervane and restore his government. His call for help was rejected with same contempt he treated their advice. Rebels ceased the political turmoil to stage an insurgency in the northern party of the country.

The circustances that led to the political turmoil in the Ivory Coast may be different from our political situation, But there are similar underlining features. These features include passing legistation that will led to a disputed elections, appointing party faithful to the highest court and thus denying opponents of a fair verdict in court of law, ignoring the views of opposition elements and other stakeholders in countries, killing open discourse by labelling anyone opposed to a policy or legislation as belong to the opposition party or having a hidden agenda,. segregating the country along ethnic and tribal lines, corruption at the heart of government, finally and more importantly a disputed election results. These are the features that led the to fall of Konan Bedie on new year's eve in the Ivory Coast, and these are also a major character of the Kuffour government.

Fellow readers supposing ROPAB is implemented in 2008 and the NDC leads the NPP by 51% after all votes in Ghana are counted, and this result is reversed by votes from abroad. The party then went ahead and declare its candidate winner because they disagree with bill from the start. Then NPP insist that their candidate win election because combine votes gives them an urge over the NDC. Just imagine the mayhem this may cause our nation. As Ghanaians we regard ourselves as peace loving people and whole world agreed and loud us for the peaceful nature of our country. Ghana is the only stable country in an ocean of war thorn countries. We did not achieve this peace in vacum. It took the courage and understanding of Ghanaians as a whole and our national leadership then to sustain this process. We should not allow five years of an enerpt, corrupt and tribalic government to wreck our country and lead us to the path of disister. . Regarding ourselves as peaceful is in itself is not enough to garantee us peace. Ivorians saw themselves as more peaceful then others before new year's eve 1999. But they failed to prevent the conditions that cause war. They forgot that they live very close to a warring Liberia, and the follow of arms in both coutries is easy. We have had situation in Ghana when armed men from the Ivory Coast held a village in the North-Western end of our boarder to ransom. This means that we are as vulnerable as the Ivorians before the rebels invaded their country.

ROPAB is not an issue of national interest, it is a partisan parochial interest of the NPP. It is a bill or law intended only for the purposes of sustaining NPP's grap to power. It is also not a voilation of the laws of Ghana to ask those interested in voting to travell to back to Ghana for that purpose. After all, Back home in Ghana, some Ghanaians travel back to their villages and hometowns to cast their vote on elections election day.

I end this article with the advice Machiavelli offered leaders in his famous book "the Prince". As a Stateman of Florence, Machiavelli adviced the Prince of Florence to be a master and learner of all the past mistakes and failures of other princes. For it is the only way to avoid repeating such mistakes when confrontred with the same situation.

Abdul Musah
Ontario, Canada

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.