Systematic constriction of voter’s democratic expression in Ghana

The recent limited voter registration exercise by Ghana’s Electoral Commission (EC) presented systemic challenges that ultimately restricted rather than enhanced mass registration by first-time voters in Ghana.  

The EC’s decision to limit voter registration to its 268 district offices instead of maximising electoral areas as advocated by opposition parties and civil society organisations, accounts for this.

The latter had argued that this decision would present formidable logistics and financial challenges for first-time voters.

They followed up with a suit in Ghana’s Supreme Court, to ground its claims in a court directive.  

In typical fashion, the EC has debunked these resorting to arguments that affirm the EC’s current “untouchable status” per the estimation of the Commissioner for Human Rights & Administrative Justice.

Per one Electoral Commissioner, it is not compulsory to vote.

Per another, even if there will be future ongoing opportunities to register continually, aligning registration centres to electoral areas cannot be guaranteed.

Did the CSOs and the opposition parties embellish the said significant logistics and financial challenges posed to some potential first-time voters by design?

I reached out to Fredrick Quodzo Tetteh, a former Assemblyman of the Kwaekese Bampo Electoral Area, and a Deputy Communications Officer of the NDC in the Kwahu Afram Plains North constituency, to understand the practical implications of the EC’s decisions.

I learnt about 575 surrounding communities accessing 125 Polling Stations at the EC’s Kwahu Afram Plains North District offices at Donkorkrom. Out of these 575 communities, 220, constituting 38 per cent, are made up of so-called island communities aka ‘hard to reach areas’ or ‘overseas territories.’

“From the last polling station on Digya Island which is Agordeke, you need about GH¢800 to GH¢1000 to get to Donkorkrom if you are coming as an individual with a service boat.”

The financial reality is even more compounded where an individual lacks a Ghana card for identification purposes, associated transportation costs of an accompanying guarantor with a Ghana card ought to be factored in. 

Let me break it down further

Although most of these Island communities fall under Donkorkrom, there is apparently no direct public transportation linking the islands to it.

Individuals, therefore, resort to privately operated speed boats which are smaller and fitted with outboard motors and more expensive.  

On any given day, these options are often likely to be derailed by shortages in premix fuel.

To access markets, fishermen routinely travel from these islands in the Eastern Region to Abotoase in the Oti Region.

To continue to their district capital Donkorkrom from Abotoase however, one needs to travel to Kpando in the Volta Region, cross over to Agordeke via Pontoon and pick a car to Donkorkrom.

Of note is the fact that this boat connecting a traveller from Abotoase to Agordeke is available only on market days.

As my Comrade Stephen Kemetse eloquently argued, “Getting even GH¢5 to access a tangible benefit such as a health insurance card renewal is a challenge in some quarters.

Why do we think the villagers are going to incur exorbitant extra costs to access a perceived intangible benefit like a voter ID card?”

No doubt, the exercise will end with thousands being registered.

In fact within six days of the commencement of the exercise, the EC touted the figure of 182,931 Ghanaians being registered.

They would be silent on the tens of thousands that will be systematically disenfranchised even as we await the EC’s plans for continuous registration in all district offices nationwide in 2024.

Other red flags emerge.

The Inter Party Advisory Committee (IPAC), once a useful deliberative mechanism, is now weakened with the withdrawal of the National Democraticb Congress, the main opposition party accusing the EC of intransigence.

As tensions simmer, the charge of intransigence is further amplified by other opposition parties that have joined the NDC in its lawsuit on the limited voter registration exercise, their IPAC membership notwithstanding.

Let’s zoom out of the limited registration exercise a little.

Put yourself in the shoes of the ordinary Ghanaian.

Increasingly, a lot of initiatives centre around possession of the Ghana card.

Meanwhile, there is no universal coverage in registration for and possession of the Ghana card. One systemic bottleneck.

Why don’t the aggrieved political parties resort to law courts?

Well, the suit filed by them is still pending, waiting to be heard as the voter registration exercise ends.

Second systemic bottleneck.

Even after the opposition parties filed the lawsuit, the Court Registrar delayed in scheduling hearing because the Chief Justice was abroad.

On return to the jurisdiction, the Chief Justice continued to Cape Coast to attend the Bar Conference.

Third systemic bottleneck.

The registration continues, meanwhile.

Eventually, it dawns on you that there is no outlet.

The political and governance systems, set up to give free expression to your democratic rights and freedoms are conspiring against you.

You see where this is going?

What do you think will happen one day when the people decide they have had enough of the merry go round?  

The writer is the Chairman of the Centre for Social Justice, an Accra-based think tank advocating for progressive social transformation and people-centered development. 
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