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New voters register with 'new law' less than 6 months to elections breaches ECOWAS protocol - Bombande to Parliament

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong
Emmanuel Bombande
Emmanuel Bombande

Ghana may breach the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol on elections, if it goes ahead to procure new voters register under a new law less than six months to the December 7, 2020 elections, according to conflict resolution and peacebuilding expert, Mr Emmanuel Habuka Bombande.

Explaining, Mr Bombande made a specific reference to the protocol on democracy and good governance (ECOWAS Protocol A/SP1/12/01).

This is the supplementary protocol to the main ECOWAS mechanism for conflict resolution, peacekeeping and security.

It basically underscores that no new substantial modification shall be made to the electoral laws in the last six (6) months before elections, except with the consent of a majority of political actors.

This Protocol states under Elections in Section II, Article 2 (1). "No substantial modification shall be made to the electoral laws in the last six (6) months before the elections, except with the consent of a majority of political actors."

Speaking in a radio interview with Accra based Class FM, which was monitored by Graphic Online last Thursday, Mr Bombande noted that because it was less than six months to elections [December 7, 2020], and “because there is no consent from the other political actors, to now go ahead and allow a Constitutional Instrument  (C.I.) to mature into law, whereas it would be the legal procedure in our laws, it will be a violation of the [ECOWAS] treaty that we [Ghanaians] are bound by.”

The comments of the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration in the President John Dramani Mahama's administration followed an earlier comment he wrote and published on Facebook on June 3, 2020, on the issue.

“Keep in mind, we [Ghana] are a key member of the ECOWAS community and so the implications then would be huge in terms of not only what reverberates in our country but also across the region,” he said in the Class FM radio interview.

Explanation

“The EC is asking for us to totally put aside and discard the voters register as we know it up to now, and re-configure completely a new voters register, which then will have serious consequences on the voting that will happen on 7th December because, some people might not be able to vote on the principle that they were not able to register and the reason for that will be because, they either don’t have a Ghana Card, or they don’t have a passport.”

“Now even without a petition, ECOWAS, I believe will remind Ghana, that you cannot do what you are proposing to do, especially if the tensions continue, because there is no consent, and ECOWAS then is monitoring everyday, and begins to feel that the elections in December are likely going to have repercussions that we can describe as violent, as in the frame of prevention, which is then provided in the protocol on democracy and good governance, ECOWAS will definitely draw attention.”

“And keep in mind that before any elections there are normally what we call the advanced ECOWAS mission for monitoring of those elections but because we are in the Covid period {Coronavirus] and travel restrictions are still in place, you probably have not seen that happening yet, but it will definitely happen because, not only is it within the remit of a protocol that is being breached, but its also within the purview of where Ghana sits and stands in the ECOWAS community, because if Ghana goes down, it means it is going to be a huge setback for the entire West African sub-region,” he added.

Read also: I’m NDC, Jesus Christ was a Social Democrat – Bombande

Consent

Commenting on whether or not in relation to the consent of all political actors made reference to in the protocol, and the fact that the EC in Ghana have been consulting with all political actors on its move on the new register and that on January 10, 2020 for instance, the EC held an Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) meeting together with an Eminent Committee it formed on the issue, Mr Bombande argued that at that meeting, it was not made clear that the existing voter ID would be excluded as a source document for the new register.

When he was also prompted that at that meeting a majority of members from that meeting agreed on the need for a new voters register and pointed to the number of 13 political parties being, a majority supporting the new register, Mr Bombande said:

“Let me not go into the discussions about the credentials of the political parties referred to because that will be politics. I want us to stay above politics.”

“At the meeting you referred to, the EC did not indicate to this Eminent Advisory Committee that the voters register as we have it now would be excluded as a major document of identity if a new voters register were to commence.”

“So the principle of agreeing to a voters register at that time, did not also tell the people of Ghana that, your voters register, which you have, and I’m talking about the voters registration card, will become an illegal document by the time that the registration starts and that for me, marks of insincerity.”

“And that is why we have to move out of this type of acrimony and suspicion that includes the type of misleading processes, hopefully with the view that we can arrive at solving problems… people now have become concerned that we are not transparent enough and we are not capable of building the consensus on the basis of the principles of integrity.

“So if I were to make that summary, once the issue of the documents of identification emerge, we should have then gone back to build consensus on how that means in terms of Ghanaians who are entitled, keep in mind, the political and civil rights to vote, is a human right, so that if now we are preparing to start the voters register, and the consequence of the documents that will be used to register to vote will now disenfranchise, and we are not prepared to talk about it and find a common resolution based on principle, then it reinforces why the ECOWAS protocol in the first place was a very important treaty so that we are able to prevent conflicts from happening.”

“That, we do not have a situation in which towards the end of preparations for an election, we begin to see new elements that inform the preparation that will not be commensurate with the agreed principles that we [Ghana] are part of and we are a key contributor that now violates peoples basic rights and now becomes in my view dangerous ground, that could now impact negatively on the credibility and the peacefulness of an election.”

What Parliament should do

Mr Bombande said Parliament has an opportunity to look a the C.I. before the House and make sure that it is aligned with the ECOWAS protocol.

"And so our laws at the national level, should not violate that law, that treaty at the regional level. But the emphasis on that treaty is that we collectively agreed on convergence criteria that led to a sub-regional declaration of political principles that the whole of West Africa, made up of the 15 member states will always engage collectively when it comes to the major convergence criteria of political engagement and standards."

Read also: I’m NDC, Jesus Christ was a Social Democrat – Bombande

Below is a copy of Mr Bombande's full Facebook post

Writer's email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Read his full Facebook post below:

Is it not sad, Ghana has to make a decision on the crucial laws that should guide elections in 2020, not through our best practice of consensus building first, before legitimisation in Parliament, but this time, through a vote on the basis of a winner, the majority, and the loser the minority?

There are serious implications for such an outcome.

1. While the CI (law) in question will make legal the rules for the conduct of the elections, it will equally violate the ECOWAS Protocol A/SP1/12/01 On Democracy and Good Governance. This Protocol states under Elections in Section II, Article 2 (1). "No substantial modification shall be made to the electoral laws in the last six (6) months before the elections, except with the consent of a majority of political actors." It is already less than six months before the elections on 7th December.

If on the basis of division through voting, the CI is passed and allowed to mature in June, first it would have violated the six months threshold. It would violate a treaty we are bound by. It is instructive that because the CI will allow for an entire new Voter's Register, it is substantive. Because the CI was passed through voting, there would be no consent of a majority of political actors. It should be noted here that political actors does not refer to Politicians. It is the understanding of all the actors whose consent enhances good governance. This includes the Traditional Chiefs, CSOs, Women Organisations, Academia, Labour Unions etc. All these actors are calling for consensus on the law that governs the elections, not a split in Parliament of a winner and a loser on how the law is passed.

2. Ghana is a key member of the ECOWAS Community. The Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance is supplementary to the Protocol Relating to the Mechanism For Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security. Both Protocols emerged out of bitter experiences of ravaging wars in West Africa beginning with the Liberian Civil War that spread to Sierra Leone. Guinea was on the brink at a point.

Then was the case of Guinea Bissau, later on Cote d'Ivoire and much later a turbulent political transition in Burkina Faso. Out of these experiences, Ghana was a leader in how we must act collectively to prevent bloodletting and wars. Under the stewardship of President Rawlings, Ghana led the ECOMOG Mission to Liberia with a Ghanaian as first ECOMOG Commander. The Protocol referred to as the "Mechanism" was signed in 1999. The Supplementary Protocol was signed in 2001 when it was the turn of President Kufour. As Chair of ECOWAS, President Kufour presided over the Accra Talks that ended the Liberia Civil War. President Mahama as Chair of ECOWAS mediated the first phase of political crisis in Togo before elections in 2015. He later Mediated in the political transition in the Gambia with his colleague Heads of State, Presidents Buhari, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Koroma. President Nana Akufo Addo Mediated the second phase of the Togolese crisis before elections. All this is to say, we were /have been well placed in such Mediation and Leadership roles because Ghana has always been a reference. Our elections have been competitive but the rules governing each election was built on consensus. the outside world admired Ghana for this. Elections outcomes were therefore acceptable because the rules of the game was fair to all political parties. In the political competition, fairness in the game is the golden rule. In the way and manner this CI will mature in a divisive and polarised manner, it could be the beginning of Ghana losing that prestige and convening role as Mediator in West Africa.

3. When we are confronted as we are now; the EC supported by the Ruling Party argue that the Voter's Register is not credible and on the other hand, Opposition parties and CSOs say the Voter's Register is credible, you do not solve such impasse through the passage of the Law (CI) in Parliament. You dialogue over the impasse and build consensus before you pass a law based on the consensus built. If such dialogue were allowed and convened, the Ghanaian creativity of problem solving together would have prevailed. That is the spirit of Ghanaians looking out for one another. I cannot make the detailed reference here. I have been part of a high level mediation with similar impasse in a Country over a Voter's Register. Through dialogue, all sides of the political divide in that Country together with their CSOs, EC, Chiefs etc. agreed for an independent auditing of their Voters Register with the prior agreement that they will accept the audited report. The Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) put together Experts who verified and audited the Voter's Register. The verification report was accepted by all . The Country went on to organise a very peaceful election. In our current context, one side says the register is not credible and that is it. There is no discussion. This is dangerous and not a good development. As it stands, the maturity of the CI in parliament could be or begin to be the slippery road downhill of our revered democracy.

4. We understood at first hand how conflicts can be devastating not only to those who fought it but an entire region. The collective resolve of all the 15 countries to prevent such armed conflicts and chaos informed our Protocols that I have referred to earlier. These protocols are binding treaties. When we sign a treaty we are obligated to it. It is binding. We cannot for partisan political interest in Ghana, violate a treaty that has been a collective effort and that has worked so far to prevent conflicts. Our very Honourable Members of Parliament who will vote a CI without the consent of the other Parties would be guilty of a treaty violation. They will no longer have the moral right to sit in the ECOWAS Parliament that is the institution through which we are bound by treaties. Ghana will lose its legitimacy to be a good Mediator because we will not be different from those we go to help who find it difficult to build internal consensus.

In an election in which the political environment is highly polarised with unbridled partisanship, we do not make it worse with a law that deepens the divide.

Finally, the global appeal from the top leadership of the UN and across board is simple; it is compelling that as part of the response to COVID-19, all countries in the World organising elections should build and seek consensus in the conduct of the elections. We in Ghana seem not to care or heed to this appeal.