The countdown has begun, with barely 112 days to the November 7, 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections.
So far, the national focus has been on the Electoral Commission (EC) and how it is rolling out its calendar of activities towards the conduct of successful elections which will be the seventh in the Fourth Republic.
All along it has really been a herculean task for the election management body as it navigates its way to ensure peaceful, free and fair polls whose outcome will be accepted by all stakeholders.
In the midst of this keen focus on the EC, with every step and move it takes coming under the microscope and being criticised, what is missing in our political engagement is the readiness of the 26 or so registered political parties towards the 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
Out of the 26 political parties, only two — the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the dominant opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) — have elected their flag bearers and named their running mates for the polls.
Six other political parties have successfully organised conferences and conventions to elect their flag bearers but are yet to name their running mates. They are the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), which did so last Saturday, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), the People’s National Convention (PNC), the National Democratic Party (NDP), the Great Consolidated Popular Party (GCPP) and the United Progressive Party (UPP).
Out of the 26 political parties, only the PPP and the Independent People’s Party (IPP) have their policy statements or manifestos launched. The rest, including the NDC and the NPP, are still putting their act together.
Revised Voters exhibition
Currently on exhibition is the revised voters register and the re-registration of NHIS registrants whose names were deleted from the register. We need to see the political parties actively getting involved to make the national exercise a success.
Delay of manifestos
Clearly, the delay in the presentation of manifestos by the political parties is difficult to explain, particularly when the same political parties are seeking our mandate to rule the country.
The argument that Ghana is not a reading nation and for that matter manifestos are needless is very pointless, to say the least, because manifestos afford Ghanaians the opportunity to peruse what the various political parties have to offer.
Besides, manifestos are the campaign message of the party and so if the public is denied access to such an important document, then how do we expect the electorate to make informed choices and decisions?
Over the years, the release of manifestos is delayed, as they are made available in the last minute.
It appears the NDC and the NPP are playing a game with the release of their respective manifestos, as accusations of theft of manifesto content have rather taken centre stage.
The Daily Graphic has carried reports in which representatives of the two parties have said even though their manifestos are ready, they are not in a position to release them because if they do their opponents may steal their policies and replicate them as theirs.
This argument, with all respect, is weak and untenable, since, in my view, the electorate are discerning and will definitely know who mooted an idea first and who is copying from the other.
There can also be a situation where parties may share the same ideas but may have different approaches to their implementation.
Manifestos may be likened to the same wares displayed at a market; it is how those wares or products are packaged and advertised by their manufacturers that can attract potential buyers from buying a particular item.
For instance, everyone is yearning for free education and so it will not be out of place for parties to make free education a priority in their manifestos, but the cardinal issue here will be how to implement that policy.
Therefore, it will do a lot of good for those who are yet to release or launch their manifestos to do so early in their own interest, since it could boost their chances in the elections. The parties engaged in that game should be reminded that he who hesitates is lost.
Political parties must launch their manifestos on time for study and scrutiny by the electorate in order to take good political decisions.
Last Saturday, the PPP became the latest party to go for its convention where its flag bearer, Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom, was acclaimed. It is my expectation that he will hit the ground running by naming his running mate and presidential campaign team to vigorously sell out its policies to the electorate.
Lot of work ahead
With barely three months to the November 7 polls, time is of the essence and so the serious parties must get their act together. While the NPP could be said to have activated its campaign across the country and the NDC has just completed its ‘Accounting to the People’ tour and will plunge into actual campaigning soon, not much by way of sustained campaigning has been heard from the other parties.
This is also the time for the political parties to begin serious organisation on the ground and engage in the training of their polling agents.
Role of polling agents
In the 2012 election petition, the role of polling agents was one of the key issues that emerged because of their unique role in the electoral process, especially in matters bordering on the collation of results at the polling centres. It also emerged that some of the agents were deficient due to their limited education.
We have learnt from Nigeria how they were able to organise free fair and transparent elections due to the level of education of polling agents. It is, therefore, imperative that the parties recruit qualified polling agents and train them sufficiently to be up to the task on election day in order to avoid our previous mistakes.
The political parties know the importance of polling agents and their qualities, what is expected of them at the polling stations and what they must not do in order to ensure that polling goes on smoothly to remove any doubts that may be associated with the elections and the results.
Since the parties stand to gain a lot because each vote counts in a democracy, the issue of spoilt ballots must be of a major concern. It will be in the interest of all political parties to educate their supporters.
It is for these reasons and others that the parties cannot delay any aspect of their campaigning, since that won’t inure to their benefit.