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Opinions of Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

Why the NPP must go to Court (and Stay there)

Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng

Two full weeks after the elections the main talking point remains the NPP’s reaction to the results and the party’s subsequent threat to go to court to seek redress against the perceived electoral fraud committed against its presidential candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo. What should be a simple matter has become a very public controversy, not least because the NPP itself appears to be in the grip of a gut-wrenching Hamlet-like indecision. While the party’s top brass all appear to be dedicated to going to court, noises from some of its well-known members suggest that going to court is not a unanimous choice.
Dr. Charles Wereko-Brobbey appears to lead the charge away from court although his reasons are circuitous in that he agrees with the leadership’s main argument, namely that the party was robbed of votes which were then given to President John Mahama. However, he argues that the NPP should lick its wounds, not aggravate the neutrals it would need in a future election, and to plan for that future. It is a stance that would appeal to a good percentage of Ghanaians outside the NPP’s core base.
It is true that many Ghanaians, including some who voted for Nana Akuffo Addo, have resigned themselves to the “fact on the ground”, which is that Mr. John Mahama is the President of Ghana. It is also a fact that with Christmas just around the corner, the majority of Ghanaians would probably wish the whole long political season away so that they can enjoy their favourite Christmas food undisturbed. Naturally, the NDC leadership as well as rank and file believe, like Dr. Wereko-Brobbey, that a prolonged NPP protests damages the latter’s case at the court of public opinion.
Although one can see many people agreeing with the Wereko-Brobbey school of thought and other similar reasoning, there is a more powerful argument to urge the NPP to go to court and stay there until the case has been resolved. In one sense, this case ought not be an NPP case but a Ghana issue because the NPP allegation has cast a shadow on our election and it should be in everybody’s interest to have it resolved, albeit with different and opposing expectations. Unless the matter is brought to a successful close in one direction or another, election 2012 will forever be known as the “disputed elections of 2012”. That means no matter how much we try, the cracks of 2012 will be shown hanging over the presidency, the cabinet and all appointments, decisions of state and above all the Electoral Commission and its chairperson. That is not Ghana’s reputation in the world.
I was privileged to travel around much of the country on a STAR-Ghana election-related consultancy at the height of the electioneering and the one sentiment that echoed and re-echoed around Ghana was that we wanted peace before, during and after the election, and forum after forum sent out a clear message that anyone who had a problem with the election should use the court option. Indeed, in election matters the court must be the first and only resort for any aggrieved party. It is therefore strange that the NPP’s court threat should be seen as anything but the correct option and procedure and the one and only option that the country should prescribe for any party in that situation.
It is for this reason that I find it difficult to understand those who are condemning the NPP for choosing to go to court. What is the alternative? One might say that the default Ghanaian position is to do nothing and “give it to God”. It is not always a helpful attitude and one that contrasts sharply with our boisterous radio politics. It appears that we have no faith in the very institutions that have been mandated to protect us and resolve differences among us. In any case, rather than demoralize their followers with a court case, it would be disastrous for the party to withdraw even the threat of going to court. Therefore, at this point it would not be a surprise if as you read this the NPP are already in court because they have no choice.
Disputes arising from elections are the number one cause of violent conflicts in Africa and they usually arise in situations where the aggrieved party has no normal way of seeking redress. This is not the case in Ghana and we should be happy that even in the throat of a bitter election dispute the court has been chosen as the stage of resolution rather than the theatre of war. When we denigrate the court option either due to impatience or for narrow political reasons we create conditions for people not to have confidence in the court route and get tempted to consider other options.
A related issue is the spate of demonstrations that the NPP and its affiliated organs have either embarked on or have announced. Again, this must be seen as part of normal democratic politics instead of as a security threat. I have read bitter denunciations of these demonstrations as amounting to some kind of a violent coup instead of the most visible expression of our democracy. Of course, politics will not justify any criminal acts during a demonstration but the idea that some people might “misbehave” cannot be used, a priori to stop people from mounting demonstrations to back their stand. There is nothing new in this; indeed, again allowing peaceful demonstration as an outlet for pent-up feelings does not justify the REASON for the demonstration. The demonstration itself, provided it follows the rules, is a right and not a privilege. Indeed, it is at such times that our democratic credentials must come to the fore rather than be suppressed.
Having said that, one can say the time may have come for the NPP leadership to re-assess their tactics regarding demonstrations and other forms of street protest. Allowing the supporters to go on the street may have been a necessary part of containing their disappointment but if the party wants to be taken seriously it needs now to move to courts because the street protest, whatever its merit, has run its course.
The only thing that should persuade the NPP not to go to court is if it finds that its evidence cannot stand in court in which case it should quickly apologise to all those it has implicated in the alleged fraud including the President, the Electoral Commission, the NDC and all their agents. Otherwise, for Ghana’s sake we must all encourage the NPP to go to court and stay there until judgment is pronounced.
Calls are coming thick and fast for Ghana to drop the first past the post or winner takes all electoral system and adopt a system that truly reflects the will of the people. First past the post has the virtue of being straightforward but it does not reflect the real intentions of voters taken together. Even the British from whom we copied this electoral system are replacing it, albeit gradually with local elections conducted by proportional representation.
Proportional representation gives people more choices and usually gives the opportunity to smaller parties to do well, especially during local elections. With proportional representation every vote counts equally no matter where a voter may reside. In our present system, any voter who chooses any other party apart from the NPP at say Bantama has simply spoils their vote and the same goes for non-NDC voters in Ketu South. If we practiced proportional representation every vote would count towards the proportion of seats that every party would get in Parliament according to its percentage of votes. More countries in the world practice proportional representation than those who vote winner takes all but in the countries where winner takes all is still the norm elections at all levels of administration gives the people the choice to select officials from parties other than the government party. Strengthening the smaller parties will not only give us more choices but reduce the chances of our nation being strangled by the duel to the death dance macabre being performed by the NPP and the NDC. The proverb says, a rainstorm is not always preceded by high winds. Another says, a word to the wise is enough.
This article first appeared in the Mirror