To hell with national interest? (1)

BY: Razak El-Alawa
The chamber of Parliament, participatory democracy has turned into benefits to only those who win elections
The chamber of Parliament, participatory democracy has turned into benefits to only those who win elections

Ghana is touted as a model of democracy in our part of the world. Since the inception of the Fourth Republic on January 7, 1993, we have remained the envy of many on our continent, an oasis of peace and stability in a very troubled region.

Ghana has won a lot of respect from the international community because of the way we have conducted our affairs during the past quarter of a century. Our neighbours, and other countries elsewhere, cannot believe we have been holding elections successfully during the period of the Fourth Republic without any rancour and acrimony.

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What has even surprised many outside Ghana is the fact that on two occasions a ruling party has been defeated in an election and yet peacefully handed over power to the opposition.

We ourselves believe that military rule, which has caused so much havoc to us as a nation and believed by many to have retarded our economic progress, is a thing of the past.

In spite of all the accolades from the outside world there are many well-meaning Ghanaians who are not comfortable with our lot and with our situation.


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We may have been enjoying a good ride in our democratic dispensation, but there are those who feel we are sitting on a time bomb and it will only need a small spark for the whole thing to explode into our face.

Parties

Since the advent of constitutional rule in 1993, after a period of military intervention many believe did us no good, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) have been the two dominant political parties in the political landscape. Power has been alternating between the two parties periodically.

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The NDC, which was formed out of the long ruling PNDC, under the former military strong man Jerry John Rawlings, won the first two general elections and therefore formed t he government in 1993 and 1997.

When it appeared that the NDC was unbeatable and would remain in power for a long time, the NPP surprised everybody by upsetting the apple cart in the general elections of 2000. Even though Rawlings had stepped down after two terms, not many gave candidate John Agyekum Kufuor of the NPP a dog’s chance to defeat the NDC Candidate, former Vice-President John Evans Atta Mills, at the polls.

That was the beginning of the change of baton between the NDC and the NPP after eight years in power. Nothing wrong with that. It is also interesting to note that at the beginning of the present Parliament, no other party, including independent candidates, had been able to win a seat in Parliament.

Winner-takes-all

Today we have MPs from only the two dominant parties. The smaller parties have been rendered irrelevant while it will take super-human efforts for an independent candidates to win an election.

What this situation has brought about, where one party rules for eight years and the other goes into opposition, is the attempt by the party in power to take full control of affairs in the country and try every means possible to frustrate or even strangulate the other party from ever coming back to power.

This is the situation Ghanaians now refer to as “Winner-Takes-All”, meaning the party that comes to power fills every available position in the country with its loyal members and supporters, including even positions in the civil and public service and top hierarchy of the military, the police and other Security agencies.

This “Winner-Takes-All” syndrome, many believe, is the root cause of all our problems today. How can we check or control corruption, our number one public enemy, our greatest canker, when, the preoccupation of our two dominant political parties, the NDC and NPP, is to win political party.

Now that it appears the unwritten rule for each party is to stay in power for eight years and go into opposition, the party in power has to build a war chest with which to fight back and win power during the period of opposition. I can bet that the only way to build such a war chest is through corrupt practices to pile billions of cedis for the rainy day.

We may pretend not to know it, but this “Winner –Takes-All” situation is seriously affecting our loyalty to the state. There is no more anything called national interest. It is party loyalty that is in vogue, it is party loyalty that can open doors not loyalty to the state.

Not quite long ago, a former Information minister during the Mills administration, Mr Fritz Baffour, told the Ghanaian Times that the nation needs to rethink the current system where the winning party and its members control all public institutions.

He cautioned that the system was fuelling political indiscipline and leading the country into a dangerous path.

“The “Winner-Takes-All” is not good for us; we have to look at proportional representation. Then there is another aspect which is the power of the President.

“I think the President is too powerful, he is too much of an appointing authority, for instance, in places where he could have left it alone”, adding that “it is wrong to give all official posts to party members whether competent or not”.

However, I believe that the President may be very powerful, because he can hire and fire without explaining his action to anybody; he unfortunately is powerless when the foot soldiers of his party take him on.

Foot soldiers

The foot soldiers, many of whom are unemployable anyway, wield a lot of power in our political set up. They can tell the President what they want or even threaten him that if he doesn’t bend to their wishes, he should forget about their votes.

This is what is breeding indiscipline on our society. This is what has brought about the rise of vigilantism in our political dispensation, where powerful groups can call the bluff of the President and elders and leaders of their party and take the law into their own hands, caring little about the embarrassment they cause the leadership of their parties.

Which President in the Fourth Republic has been able to call these vigilante groups to order as they go about seizing public toilets, toll booths and other places of convenience or even locking out their district and municipal chief executives for refusing to do their wish. They even go to the extent of accusing these chief executives of being more sympathetic to members of the opposition by awarding them contracts.

Is it not sad therefore that we have seen an influx of politically motivated vigilante groups in Ghana’s political space? It is the pockets of violence in the activities of these groups that must be of concern to all well-meaning and peace loving Ghanaians.

Can we easily forget the invasion of the NPP headquarters by some unknown faces who turned everything upside down and were believed to be sympathisers of the then Chairman of the NPP, Mr Paul Afoko?

About a year ago, Delta Force, a vigilante group stormed a Circuit Court in Kumasi and forcibly freed 13 of their members who were facing charges of causing mayhem at the Ashanti Regional Coordinating Council.

Recently in Kumasi again, same persons believed to be members of the Delta Force attacked the Minister of Monitoring and Evaluation, Dr Anthony Akoto Osei for reportedly failing to deliver on his promise to give them jobs.