Monster, raving, loony decisions

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
Mrs Charlotte Osei, EC chairperson
Mrs Charlotte Osei, EC chairperson

When I lived in the United Kingdom, one of the highlights of election night for me was the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, (OMRLP). The leader of the party, Screaming Lord Sutch and his outlandish outfits fitted perfectly my image of the quirky English.

My view on such matters being that even though politics is and should be a serious business, a democracy must have room for all sorts. It must be said that Screaming Lord Sutch was not all comic relief or all loony. A surprising number of the issues the OMRLP campaigned on and which sounded outlandish at the time have made it into mainstream British political life.  

The party campaigned for all day opening of pubs in the 1980s which became law in 1995. So at the 1997 election, they went a step loonier with a manifesto pledge for all-night opening too. 24-hour licencing pledge became law in 2005.

It used to be technically mandatory for dog owners in the UK to hold a licence, although it was often ignored. The Moster Raving Loony Party campaigned for their abolition. Dog licences were abolished in 1987.

The party made a pledge in their 1983 manifesto to issue pets with passports so that they could travel abroad without lengthy stays in quarantine. Pet passports were introduced in 2001. In other words, something could come out of a fringe party other than comic interruption. 

What is more, history is full of examples of movements that start like a one-man crusade and end in the mainstream with everybody wondering why they had not always done whatever the particular cause was. The Greens and Environmentalists can hardly be described as fringe parties today.    

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I would hesitate to equate some of the political parties whose presidential candidates have been disqualified by our Electoral Commission from the forthcoming election to the UK’s OMRLP. 

Some of them would lay claim to strongly held ideologies and programmes that would interest the electorate. Some of them are breakaway parties formed by personalities who have fallen out with their original parties for reasons that are not clear to the rest of the world. Some of them, quite a number, are led by people who want to be presidential candidates and can only hope to get on the ballot if they form their own parties or offer themselves as independent candidates. 

Unfortunately some of them such as Hassan Ayariga and Akua Donkor quite frankly have no redeeming features; they are not funny and they sound and behave like they are for hire, and are the sort that give a bad name to politicians. 

So am I happy that the EC has disqualified them and other “smaller” parties and Independents from the list? No, I am not. I think we are all the poorer when some voices are removed from the public discourse. 

I am curious though that the Electoral Commission appear to have made such a dramatic change in their attitude to the importance they accord to filling a form. 

If shoddy paperwork should be deemed good reason to reject nomination forms, I wonder what the commission is going to say to voting result forms or Pink Sheets that are not signed by presiding officers. 

The EC is threatening to report to the Police, people who had been shown to have dodgy paperwork on their forms. That sounds like a new one to me. I thought those things did not matter so long as the main intentions of the voters have been determined. 

I wonder what the Commission is going to say about a polling station in my constituency where during the count, ballot papers emerge that have been thumb printed with different colour ink from what was supplied at the station. 

I wonder if we are going into this election with the clear understanding that rules are rules and we are all bound by them. I wonder if the dramatic decision by the EC to disqualify the 13 potential presidential candidates would mean that if the votes for a candidate at a polling station changes mysteriously from 27 to 270 (twenty seven zero), the EC would throw out the results and call in the police. I wait with bated breath to hear what the courts will say.

In much the same way, I wait to see what the effect will be of the new directives to the police to stop checks on the roads for driving licences, insurance, road worthiness and all the other bits of paperwork that the police constantly demand from drivers on the roads. 

Will the police be keeping some statistics on what happens during the period so it serves as a guide for future practice? If it should turn out that between now and December 7, there are fewer road accidents, there is less tension on the roads, then the police will probably have to conclude that they should abandon their current practices altogether and not only in the run up to the election. 

When the election are over, I serve notice that I shall refuse resolutely to show my driving licence to any police officer that might ask me for it. 

There are fewer things that show us up for being primitive than this type of pathetic behaviour on the part of officialdom. The police should really be above this. If they think that their activities on the roads are a nuisance and a source of harassment to drivers, then they should find better policing methods and not resort to these things that can only be interpreted as blatant attempts to help the electoral fortunes of the party in power.

If the new police directives struck me as pathetic, I was even more enraged by the security alert issued by the State Department of the United States, asking American citizens to avoid the Manifesto launch of the New Patriotic Party (NPP)  last Sunday as a security precaution. 

The advice of the State Department is for Americans traveling to Ghana to “avoid all political meetings and rallies, the offices of political parties and of the Electoral Commission…” 

It seems to me a bit rich for the Americans to be issuing such alerts about Ghana. We have many problems in this country and I would probably advise a visitor to plan ahead for toilet breaks, be ready for potholed roads, but the outbreak of violence would not be on my list. 

Compared to the realities of their country, the US State Department should really cut down on these ridiculous security alerts for places such as Ghana. The highest terrorist alert we know in this country came when the Americans leaned on our government to accept two Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

The chances of walking into an outbreak of violence are far, far more in the US than in Ghana. 

I can tell those who missed the NPP Manifesto launch last Sunday they missed a great event. A happy time was had by all and if you stayed away because of the State Department Alert, what a great pity.