Maybe some don’t believe in elections

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The rules governing the elections must apply to all
The rules governing the elections must apply to all

It does not appear to me to be much point in engaging in a competition if both sides cannot agree on the rules of the game. When you have agreed to the rules and both sides agree to subject themselves to those rules, you can have a successful game.

When you lose, you are able to shake hands with your opponent and congratulate him because you can accept that you have lost fairly and squarely. To go into a competition or battle with people who do not believe in the rules of the game or who set out to deliberately subvert the rules is a pointless exercise.

Rumours

Long before the emergence of the phenomenon that has been labelled “fake news”, elections during this fourth Republic of ours have been characterised by the most alarming rumours. My instinct is to ignore all such rumours and encourage everybody to do the same.


This was my position until I discovered that you ignore some of these stories at your own peril. Those who are old enough would recall the famous list that emerged during the campaign for the 2008 election. This list was purported to be a compilation of the names of Kufuor’s ministers and the bank account numbers and balances in them at the Prudential bank.

The alleged bank balances looked so fantastically outrageous that when I saw the list, I dismissed it and concluded it was a huge joke that no one would believe. How wrong I was. The list appeared even in my innocent Abutia and was used as a campaign tool against the NPP in general and Kufuor’s ministers, of which I was one.

Some of the stories are regular ones that are brought out during every election. There is the one about people telling those in the rural areas that the elections are to be held over two days; December 7 being the day to vote for their preferred candidate and December 8 for the opposition date. It is not even funny but it continues to be peddled.

Then there is the persistent story about electoral officials running their fingers through their hair which would have hair pomade that would enable them add a mark to ballot papers so they can be rejected.

I have been asked by three different people whether it wasn’t possible to have electoral rules to prevent anybody from wearing long sleeve shirts at the polling station. This, I am told will stop the practice of people putting extra ballots up their sleeves, literally and adding them to the one that would have been given to them legitimately. Sometimes, I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

I remember serving as an election observer in the Maldives and one of the big problems we had to deal with was the rumour that took hold on the eve of the election that the pens that had been procured by the Electoral Commission had special inks that made the marks disappear after a few minutes, depending on which candidate you voted for. They do not use thumbprints in the voting process in the Maldives, but pens to tick the box next to the preferred candidate.

In the event, the rules were changed to allow people to bring in their own pens if they did not have confidence in the ones provided in the polling booths; but the story of the disappearing inks remained the defining image of those elections.

Distrust

The very elaborate arrangements that have been put in place for printing electoral materials underline the deep distrust that exists between the various participants in our electoral process. It makes everything we do unnecessarily expensive and complicated.

I would so very much want to dismiss suggestions of people wanting to print extra ballot papers as a case of disappearing ink. I would have liked to be able to agree with President Mahama that plans to rig the electios in his favour were “absurd nonsense”. Unfortunately, I have seen extra ballot papers at a count in my constituency of Ho West. It was never explained how they got there. The only reason you knew they were illegitimate was that they had different colour ink from what was used at the polling station, used for the thumbprints and the signatures behind the ballot papers.

There are obviously people among us who do not think they should abide by the rules that have been set up for the election; they think it is okay to suborn every laid down regulation.

There is no other explanation for the many and elaborate and complicated rules that have emerged for our election. It seems , however, that the more rules that are made, the more determined some people are to frustrate the rules.

If people are determined to win elections by cheating, there is no basis for a competition and we are all wasting our time.          

Another death

This week I am unable to give a 100 per cent of my attention to election matters. I have another death. This year, I seem to be doing nothing else but deal with unexpected and mostly sudden deaths of friends and relations.

Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey died, and for the first time in my life, I am in the middle of a political campaign without Otanka and I am feeling his absence. Paatii Ofosu-Amaah, my elegant, erudite brother-in-law who had spent a lifetime serving the World Bank, the African Development Bank and trying to sort out the mess in the Sudans died. He had announced he was coming home to register to vote and be part of the hurly-burly of Ghanaian life. One moment he was there and the next, he was gone and I can’t adjust to his absence.

Two weeks ago, I buried my Auntie Charity. She who keeps me in good standing in all matters at Abutia and ensures I am kept supplied in gari and dzomi.

Later this week, I am burying someone who has been a feature of my life for more than 40 years. Goody Okyne, mother of Naana Odeibea, Mr Kobby, Madame Abyna Ansaa and Nii Okyne, died unexpectedly and suddenly three weeks ago.

I am not writing about her because of my personal loss even though I could write a treatise about that. I suspect lots of people might be interested in hearing about her as a great beer drinker, and some might say, no wonder Elizabeth got along with her so well. I qualify as a great beer drinker myself and so will keep the beer drinking out of it.

Of the many things in which she stood out in this life, there are two that deserve to be mentioned here. She loved plants and if it laid within her powers, this dear country of ours would be a beautiful garden of flowers and trees. She could turn the smallest space into the most exotic riot of colourful plants. Orchids currently dominate her garden but she grew everything and you need to spend time to be surprised by her many plants.

She loved to cook and serve everything with style. She never served a cup of tea without an elaborate tray. She had style.