As the dicey general election of 2020 gets nigh, there seems to be some apprehension in the air, created by the combustible mix of a recurring secessionist verve in the Volta Region, the infiltration of firearms and light weapons and a political process whose transparency has been largely contested by the main opposition party.
The National Peace Council (NPC) has also admitted that tension is higher in the coming elections. In the midst of such uncertainties, no breathing space should be given to vigilantism to fester.
That is why the President’s pledge of commitment to rid the country’s political environment of the toxic effect of such vigilante groups could not have come at a better time.
“It is not going to be a law just on paper. It will be acted upon if anybody tries to breach the law. And I am saying this and I have said to the security agencies, the IGP and the top hierarchy of the police that as far as the Vigilante Law is concerned, I am colour blind,” President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo reaffirmed the commitment when he addressed residents and chiefs of Talensi as part of his recent tour of the Upper East Region.
But beyond this positive posturing by our President, there is the need for some of our political actors, especially those in opposition, to do well to respect our constitutional institutions.
After many years of military rule, Ghana decided to embrace democracy after ushering in the 1992 Constitution. That move, among others, led to the establishment of many institutions whose duties are to safeguard and deepen the democratic process.
Ghana’s constitutional institutions include the Electoral Commission (EC), managers of the electoral process; the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).
These institutions, just like the media, the security agencies and the Judiciary, are crucial to our democratic process because without them, our democracy will remain fragile. For example, the EC is the sole organiser and custodian of public elections, the bedrock of our democracy.
Unfortunately, there is a seeming danger that is fast creeping into our body politic and which has the potential to erode the gains made and confidence in some of the constitutional bodies, threatening our cherished democracy in the process.
One such institution that particularly comes to mind is the EC, which becomes the punching bag each election year. Some politicians and political parties spare no effort in sending the electoral body to the cleaners, no matter what the commission does, especially when those people deem the decisions of the electoral management body as unfavourable to their cause.
Another institution that suffers a similar fate is the Police Service, whose actions and inaction are always interpreted harshly, especially by the party in opposition.
For instance, it is now a known fact that over the period, the two dominant political parties — the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) — have viewed the EC differently when in opposition and when in government.
If a party is in opposition, the EC is its enemy and so it channels a considerable amount of political pressure towards the commission, but that position changes when the party comes to power, with the EC suddenly becoming its ally.
What is it that the EC either does rightly or wrongly, such that each election year it becomes the target and comes across carrying this heavy cross of suspicion?
Is it not intriguing that despite the fact that the NPP and the NDC have both won elections on different occasions in the Fourth Republic, the EC is still looked upon with suspicion?
As a nation, we all have a duty to ensure that our constitutional institutions, such as the EC, the NCCE, the CHRAJ, among others, are not undermined but supported to carry out their constitutional mandate efficiently and effectively.
EC not perfect but...
By all means these institutions are not perfect; they have their own challenges and they are, therefore, not above criticisms.
But the sheer show of disrespect in some instances, vilification, insults, outright lies and uncooperative attitudes cannot be the way to go if we are to grow our democracy and reap the dividends thereof.
Constructive criticisms are needed to ensure that the EC and other constitutional bodies act lawfully and do not stray beyond their constitutional mandates.
We must also appreciate the fact that irrespective of our grievances, there are many others who also share opposing views and those views must be respected. The same democracy that allows us to voice out our views in a civil manner is the same democracy that allows others to exercise that right in a similar manner.
It is, therefore, important that we collectively support the EC and all other related constitutional institutions to discharge their mandate to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
Indeed, our elections have gone through many reforms, especially after interventions by the Supreme Court. A test case is the court’s decision that declared the use of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) cards to register to vote as unconstitutional.
This means that our democratic dispensation always has room for redress.
It is of utmost importance, therefore, for our political parties and Ghanaians in general not to malign or undermine our constitutional bodies. Rather, we must do well to respect them, constructively criticise them where necessary, but not undermine, seek to destroy or bring down these revered institutions.
On the part of our constitutional bodies, it will serve a load of good for them to have listening ears, endeavour to be fair, work in the supreme interest of the nation and not see themselves as demigods who are above reproach.
There is the need for regular engagements between the constitutional bodies and stakeholders to build trust and confidence for the good of the country.
Ghana has come a long way in its democratic journey. We have the enviable reputation as a country that freely elects its leaders through the right process.
We must guard this reputation jealously by playing our individual roles with the progress of the nation at heart.