Independence of Electoral Commission under threat?

BY: Samuel K. Obour

Afari Gyan

By Francis Ameyibor

The call for the legalisation of the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) is a threat to the independence of Ghana‘s Electoral Commission and should not be entertained.

IPAC cannot be transformed into a legal entity since it will undermine the authority of the commission. It must, therefore, remain an advisory body.

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Electoral reforms are necessary

Electoral reforms are necessary but we must avoid the situation where political parties and outsiders try to dictate to the EC. It is recipe for disaster.

Proper behaviours by political parties are crucial for true and a fairly good election and until all the actors behave well, Ghana will continue to search for a bullet proof electoral system.

One core fact to understand as we struggle to reform our electoral systems is that politicians are “electoral thieves;” they lookout for loopholes in the electoral system and take advantage of that. Politicians seek to play electoral games to their advantage, even during internal contests for party and flagbearer positions.

Since the 1992 Elections, electoral reforms have become a four-year ritual; the EC constantly scans the electoral environment by constantly monitoring its operations in order to improve upon the electoral process.

The last of such special IPAC meetings was held at the Volta Hotel, Akosombo in May, 2009. The special IPAC meeting was facilitated by KAB Governance Consult (KGC) and sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) under the theme, “Safeguarding the Integrity of the Ballot Project of the Commission.”

The EC Chairman, Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, described the meeting as the continuation of interactions being held by the EC to review Election 2008.

The meeting was dubbed “Reflection Forum on the December 2008 Presidential and Parliamentary elections,” and it provided the opportunity for the EC and political parties to appraise the conduct of the December 2008 Elections.

It was also to determine appropriate lessons that should inform the conduct of future elections, with the view to enhancing the credibility, transparency and fairness of the electoral process.

It also holds expanded IPAC meetings involving the commissioner responsible for the region and political parties, parliamentary candidates, security officials, civil society organisations, National Commission for Civic Education, media, faith based-organisations that observe elections, the Commissioners and domestic election observers.

The Akosombo special IPAC meeting focused on three aspects of Election 2008:

i. What was done well, which needed to be sustained?

ii. What was not done well and needed to be improved?

iii. What was so bad that it needed to be discarded?

The National Democratic Congress, (NDC) represented by Mr Huudu Yahaya, its Vice Chairman, stressed the need for a new voters’ register for election 2012; that political parties should be furnished with details of voter transfer list.

Other suggestions by the NDC were that the EC must provide tracking sheets during registration; respond timely to petitions received in order to engender confidence in the process.

Erring Ec officials should be sanctioned

The NDC also suggested that EC staff, at the level of directors and below, should be rotated intermittently. EC staff must also be neutral and erring EC officials should be sanctioned in a timely manner.

On recruitment of temporary staff, the NDC suggested that it must be done early; there should be a manpower audit to enable the commission determine ‘capacity gaps’ and in addition,  the EC must brief the parties on how they select companies that print the ballot papers. This is due to the ink marks that were inadvertently printed on some ballots.

The NDC noted that political parties should be given copies of the voters’ register and the special voters’ list, and called for a situational report on the implementation of the recommendations of the (Kangah) committee that investigated allegations of the ‘bloated’ voters’ register.

The party decried the poor quality of indelible ink used in some cases in the elections, especially during the special voting, and the inaction of security agencies in dealing with complaints.

The New Patriotic Party (NPP), represented by the then General Secretary, Nana Ohene Ntow, generally agreed with the concerns expressed by the NDC.

He noted that the commission’s relationship with the political parties needed to be improved, especially, in the area of communication.

The NPP suggested that the EC should make its calendar of events available to political parties early in the year for effective planning.

The party called for improved security arrangements on Election Day. Any new arrangement should deal with the ‘threat of machomen’.

An inter-party back-up security

He invited political parties to consider an inter-party back-up security arrangement to deal with lapses of the state security apparatus on Election Day. The NPP also called upon the EC to disband all temporary booths.

On the collation of election results, the NPP called for a review due to alleged claims of chaos at the collation centers; and, therefore, recommended a two-step collation process, with the first one being done at the electoral level before the final collation at the constituency collation centers.

He called for intensified electoral education to help reduce ‘spoilt ballot’

The NPP stated that the EC must undertake electronic registration and electronic voting as a way of improving the electoral process.

He added that electronic registration should ideally be in place prior to Election.

The NPP suggested that political parties should be given copies of the transfer, absentee and special voters’ lists.

The NPP also asked the EC to act promptly on complaints and objections raised by political parties.

The Convention Peoples Party was represented by Mr Ivor Kobina Greenstreet, its General Secretary, who also agreed with the sentiments of both the NDC and NPP.

The CPP, however, suggested that the procedure for replacing lost ID cards should be made easier to minimise the attraction of such persons with lost cards to register anew.

Review of voter populations

The CPP called for a review of voter populations at the various polling centers to ensure efficiency and fairness, and that the EC should endeavour to have regular meetings with political parties and schedule definite timeframes which are to be made known to all parties.

The CPP suggested that registration processes should be completed way ahead of elections; there should be a clearer identification of polling agents at the various centres and that the EC must expose wrongdoers in its midst and must punish same.

The EC must publicise polling station results.

The Peoples National Convention (PNC) was represented by Mr Bernard Mornah, the General Secretary, who stated that there was the need to train security personnel on election day activities.

On the media, the PNC, while commending the positive role played by the media in support of Election 2008, however, pointed out that a few media organisations misconducted themselves through unprofessional reportage that created undue tension and confusion in the country.

He, further, made a case for training the media in subsequent elections.

On how to enhance public support, the PNC stressed the importance of public support for political parties as being critical to the consolidation of multi–party democracy in Ghana and asked for an expedited process to bring enhanced public support into fruition.

Intensification of voter education

The PNC called for the intensification of voter education, which the party noted was very critical and needed to be increased so as to minimise the high incidence of rejected ballots.

The PNC also asked the EC to consider the use of the forefinger rather than the thumb for voting in election; the need to clarify and strengthen EC-IPAC relationship and proposed that the voting process should start at 6:00 am and close at 4:00 pm to enable counting before dark.

The Democratic Freedom Party (DFP), represented by Mr Bede Zeiding called for a completely new voters’ register.

The DFP also called for an improvement in the quality of indelible ink, and suggested that the ink should be applied on the cuticle rather than the ‘immersion’ which messed a lot of ballot papers.

Other parties which participated are; the Democratic People’s Party, Reform Patriotic Democrats, Great Consolidated Peoples Party (GCPP), Ghana National Party (GNP) and a representative of the independent presidential candidate, Mr Amuafo Yeboah.

In view of the recent developments in Ghana’s electoral systems, I highly suggest that democratic stakeholders collaborate with organisers of the BRIDGE Fellowship programme to build the capacity of political parties’ representatives.

BRIDGE is a partnership between the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), International IDEA, International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (UNEAD).

The BRIDGE Fellowship trainees undergo a modular professional development programme with particular focus on electoral processes to promote internationally accepted principles of democracy and good electoral practice.

Let us approach the electoral reform process with caution, we should stop the personality attacks and focus on the main issues.

GNA Feature (The writer is a Development Communicator).