Is democracy safe in Ghana?

BY: Collins Essamuah
Freddie Blay
Freddie Blay

‘’In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.’’……..Franklin Roosevelt

A week in politics, it is said, is a long time. Two weeks then, must be half a lifetime. Since I last appeared here two weeks ago, many dramatic things have occurred in this country which will put our democratic institutions to the severest test in the near future.

The first woman and third Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Mrs Charlotte Osei, was successfully impeached and removed from office on the night of Thursday, June 28, with two deputy commissioners, by the President.

Her successful impeachment had nothing to do with the core mandate of the commission she chairs.

The very following morning, our only surviving former Vice-President of Ghana, the gentle, unassuming but solid citizen, Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, died after collapsing at an exercise gymnasium at a military installation in Accra.

His sudden departure from the land of the living and the inane comments from high and low preceding his funeral two weeks hence have exposed us once again to the evils that lurk in some breasts.

I knew him, but not very deeply as one might expect, as an old student and my senior by far in senior high school (SHS).

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We met one-on-one only once in June or July 2014. I am expecting the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), to override law, custom, political considerations and social and family norms by publishing in full the details of his death and of the upcoming funeral.

Freddie Blay’s confirmation

To cap these two very dramatic shocks to our system were the amazing, mind-boggling circumstances in which the Chairman of the ruling NPP, Freddie Blay, acting previously, was confirmed at the party conference last weekend, plus other acting and substantive executives.

Now our media space is justifiably awash in pointed questions, charges and inquiries as to how a gift of 275 vehicles outdoored literally days to the conference, constitute barefaced vote buying.

The circumstances of these three events are what make me wonder if our democracy is safe, even as we celebrate its longevity as compared to earlier failed attempts in Ghana. We should never assume that good governance or popular contentment is the result of the existence of mere structures.

It is what leaders consciously put into those structures, giving them life, that ensures our peace with the system.

The major reason I find these events and their handling to be problematic and a danger to our democracy is simple --- the basis of their political justification.

The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, always proffers that all the processes laid down in the law were followed in all the situations which have provoked popular discontent and complaints, and that obedience to due process should satisfy and answer all problems.

But this presidential argument justifies other acts in the past in our own society and others which were found not only to be bad law, but extremely terrible legalistic foundations in building and sustaining the good society.

Extremely terrible legalistic foundations
Apartheid was legal. The Holocaust was underpinned by law. Colonialism was legal. Slavery was legal.

In the particular case of Ghana, the one-party state was legal and the Preventive Detention Act under which Dr J.B Danquah perished was very legal.

These were all acts of the Parliament of Ghana, duly assembled and deliberating as prescribed by law.

The question about political propriety is not a question of legality, but of justice.

Legality is just an expression of power, which is the direct result of the ballot for a fixed term also prescribed by law.

This means that what is acceptable today is subject to change tomorrow. Therefore, democratic circumspection must always be at the forefront of both legislation and its implementation by political leaders.

Mrs Osei’s ouster, though legal, was long preceded by a solemn political promise to have her sacked by the ruling NPP when in opposition if the party won the election.

The details, processes and legality of her dismissal today are completely irrelevant because an initial oath has been fulfilled. The dismissals of the other two commissioners are mere dressing on the cake to provide a façade of legitimacy.

Now we are left with the real problem of the popular legitimacy of the incoming commissioners.

The expectation that NPP men and women will be chosen is real but unnecessary because the National Democratic Congress(NDC) chosen commission did not prevent NDC defeat in the 2000 and 2016 elections.

The dismissed Mrs Osei is the problem to be exorcised. Institutional legitimacy is the bedrock of serious democracies.

The victory of Mr Blay presents interesting political aspects for reflection. The question of loyalty and betrayal does not impress me.

Churchill crossed carpets twice in his life.

A political party in a democratic society is not a rigid army.

It is floating voters who confer power in all democracies by changing votes.

It is the self-praise by the NPP that it now has a formidable team to face the opposition NDC in 2020 which interests me, because it is not true. Blay was defeated as a Member of Parliament in 2008 by the NDC.

John Boadu was the youth organiser in 2008 when the NPP lost and Sammy Awuku and Henry Nana Boakye were part of the unsuccessful Alan Kyerematen campaign in 2007 to clinch the NPP nomination.

There is nothing formidable in this scenario for which a party will have to resort to vote buying to retain.

Even more critical, since 1992, our main political parties have shown that they are resilient independent organisms which do not respond well to manipulation and control by public office seekers.

To conclude, when political acts are carried out only on the sole basis of majoritarian dictatorship, it is the values of equality, fair play and opportunity which are at stake.

Way back in 1980 or so, I was a student at Legon and present when the noted lawyer Tsatsu Tsikata, in his inaugural lecture, titled and described the weird things which happened in the First Republic as constitutional lawlessness.

We all know who lost the most when that regime was toppled.