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Opinions of Friday, 14 March 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: The register is bloated? Already?

Slowly but surely, things are getting heated. We are truly in an election year. All the parties have elected their candidates for the presidential polls and they are all on the ground campaigning. For some, it’s a year of desperation. For others, it’s the year history beckons. And for yet others, it’s a now-or-never year.

Prof. Atta Mills of the NDC falls in the first and third group. He’s desperate to prove that President Rawlings hasn’t got him by the balls and that he is a man unto himself. He’s desperate to show his detractors that despite his illness(es), he’s strong enough to campaign to win an election and, possibly, lead the country.

It’s also a do-or-die year for him. He’s a two-time loser and I am very sure the prospect of losing a third time doesn’t appeal to him in any way. He was lucky the NDC gave him another mandate to contest this year’s elections on the party’s ticket. But surely, he must know that he’s running out of luck. It’s now or never. If he loses in December, he could as well take his political career to Awudome. I will be there to help him bury it.

A sick man engaged in a fierce battle with formidable opponents for his political life is, indeed, a desperate man. And I completely understand the situation Prof. Mills (aka Asomdweehene) finds himself in. Of all the presidential candidates we have so far, he’s the only one who cannot afford to take chances. If Akuffo Addo loses, he can try one more time and he may win the party primary again. The same applies to Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom of the CPP. I know deep down in my heart that Edward Mahama of the PNC will lose again in December. He holds the record as the candidate with the most electoral defeats. But since he carries the PNC like one of his appendages, I’m very sure he will always be their candidates – unless, of course, he realises that losing is not a fashionable thing to do every four years.

So all is well with the candidates. They are all on the campaign trail. However, the Asomdweehene has other concerns other than convincing voters to help him not lose for the third time. He is the only one among the candidates who has serious concerns about our electoral system. A few months ago, he was at a press conference warning of mayhem of Kenyan proportions if the Electoral Commission doesn’t conduct an impartial poll. Many criticised him for needlessly beating the war drums.

Seriously, I don’t know whether Prof. Mills had a revelation or not, but I didn’t get the point of that press conference. What happened in Kenya was blatant daylight robbery. Kibaki stole the vote and he made no attempt whatsoever to do it intelligently. The Electoral Commission there seemed ready and willing to play along. Apart from its own organisational lapses, I don’t think our EC has ever been forced to engage in any wrongdoing as was the case in Kenya. I could be wrong but I don’t know of a case of our electoral commissioner declaring the results of a poll from somebody’s sitting room.

I can’t say we won’t have a Kenya here. I am not a seer. But I can say that we can’t afford to have a Kenya here. Unlike Prof. Mills and Nana Akuffo Addo, I have nowhere to go if this country of ours goes up in flames. Like many Ghanaians I am perpetually broke and the foreign missions here seem to take great delight in ‘bouncing’ my visa applications. The moment they hear that I’m thinking about applying for a visa, they call me and ‘bounce’ me on the phone. On the other hand, most of the presidential candidates have multiple visas in their passports and they have money to travel the world.

They are fortunate. For the sake of those of us who are not as fortunate as they are, the politicians must be prepared to accept the outcome of the polls. Even if (or when) disputes arise, I believe Prof. Mills knows that there are ways for these to be resolved. The Kenyan way – hacking people, burning helpless women and children who have taken refuge in churches and chasing out ethnic minorities – is not the way to go. I wish Prof. Mills had told the press conference that if ever the outcome of the poll is not acceptable to all, we should do everything to make sure that we don’t go the Kenyan way. Instead, he suggested that we will go the Kenyan way. It didn’t exactly sound like a threat but it wasn’t an advice either. That was very disappointing from a man who likes to say “we want peace.”

Just when the controversy over his remarks at that press conference was dying down, Prof. Mills returns from medical treatment in South Africa to make a claim that the voters’ register in the Ashanti region is bloated. Since Ashanti is said to be an NPP stronghold, Prof. Mills’ unspoken suggestion is that the register has been stuffed to favour the ruling party.

Prof. Mills’ claims have triggered a nationwide controversy. Everyone is talking about it and warning that “Kenya could happen here”. I get so scared when I hear people talking like that. Please if you are talking about our electoral process and you want to mention Kenya, can you just say that we should do everything not to go the Kenyan way, instead of saying that’s where we might be heading? It’s just a suggestion.

The Electoral Commission, meanwhile, has dismissed Prof. Mills’ claims. In doing this, the Commission seemed to be suggesting that the CD data the NDC offered as the Ashanti voters’ roll was cooked up. All the same, the EC is leaving nothing to chance and has set about investigating the matter. We all have to wait and see what the outcome of the inquiry will be.

For now, though, I think Prof. Mills is simply crying wolf for nothing. The EC has announced plans for an exercise to review the voters’ register in a few weeks. Prof. Mills could (and should) have waited until after that exercise before coming out to make those claims.

Whiles, I understand his desperation, I think the Prof. should know by now that a win for the NPP in Ashanti doesn’t necessarily translate into victory in the elections. The NPP will continue to carry Ashanti for a long time to come just as the NDC will continue to carry Volta. So if the NPP wants to stuff the voters’ register, why will they do so in Ashanti and not Volta? I guess it’s because those who were sent to stuff the register were so desperate to get the job done they failed to think thoroughly about how and where to get it done. Maybe, they didn’t think about it all. If they had, they wouldn’t have gone to work before the review exercise and Prof. Mills would be complaining so bitterly.

And about what?