A MESSAGE TO STAKEHOLDERS IN THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL AND PARLIAMENTARY POLLS: AWARENESS AND CAUTION FOR PEACE THROUGH FREE, FAIR, AND TRANSPARENT POLLS.
Today, being 4th December, 2016, is exactly 4 days to the landmark event which will lead to electing the number one gentleman or lady to lead the Executive arm of Government to ensure the socio-economic and political security of the people of Ghana everywhere. This same event will elect 275 lawmakers who will represent their constituents in parliament.
Election 2016 also marks the 7th time Ghana as a nation is testing her democratic potency; the world is in much expectation of the outcome.
A free, fair and transparent poll will result in a pleasant outcome. Contrastingly, there can also be an election that will lead to unpleasant consequences, which we all look forward to avoiding.
Whichever outcome (pleasant or unpleasant) of the December poll is dependent on the readiness and impartiality of all the stakeholders. Relatedly, it is very important to go into the Election with minds devoid of partiality or ulterior interests.
Six political parties with their Flag-bearers and Parliamentary Candidates, as well as an Independent Candidate are presenting themselves for the electorates to choose among them.
The Electoral Commission of Ghana is the institution with the mandate to plan, coordinate and execute tasks related to the electioneering process. Consequently, the EC will declare the results peacefully, which will be a victory for the whole nation.
Beyond the two main players being the political parties or political representation and the Electoral Commission whose works are inter-connected through the Inter Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) platform, there are some other stakeholders including International/Local Observer Groups, Christian Council, Muslim Union, Security Services, National Commission for Civic Education, Traditional Councils, the Media, Civil Society Organizations, the Diplomatic Corps, the Ghanaian Judiciary, and the most important group - the Ghanaian Electorate.
This piece aims to send a clear message to all of the aforementioned stakeholders. The intention is to make them aware, and caution them of potential implications their actions and inactions may have on achieving a free, fair and transparent election, which is crucial for sustained peace in the country.
Ghana has chalked enviable successes in democratic peace, particularly on the African. We cannot allow Election 2016 to dent. Despite the importance of this periodic process of national decision-making, it is just one event out of many other important ones.
This is not to downplay the seriousness with which we must approach this polls. The political parties, EC and other stakeholders of this year's polls must conduct their activities with integrity and without prejudice or malicious intentions to help sustain the local peace and global image of Ghana.
Relatedly, we cannot underscore the impact roles played by all stakeholders of the Election have in ensuring a peaceful election.
Peace is expensive and fragile. It is enjoyed through collective and continuous processes, hand-in-hand with values such as justice, tolerance, sacrifice and forgiveness.
A crack in peace can be mended, but may not look like its former self in a long time to come. A nation without peace is far away from the world because nothing can be achieved in a state of anarchy. In the absence of peace, development, sound governance, good infrastructure clean water, schools, capacity building, jobs, etc. become irrelevant.
Some stakeholders are declaring their clear conscience at 'peace' themed conferences, meetings, seminars, fora, workshops, etc.
There have also been public peace declarations by Flag-bearers at peace concerts, through peace songs, and with political parties promising to conduct themselves peacefully.
The Electoral Commission has also promised a free, fair and transparent contest. All these proclamations are in the hope of assuring the populace of peace before, during and after the polls. Beyond these promises and aspirations, stakeholders must be made aware, and cautioned that their impartial roles are the panacea for the peace we want to experience.
Focusing on one of the crucial stakeholders, the constitutionally mandated Electoral Commission, as in other elections since democratic rule, plays the role of referee in the 2016 Election. The freedom of the EC to function independently is an indubitable requirement to work without any inducement or coercion.
With this constitutional backing, the onus largely lies on the EC to ensure that their operatives are diligent, firm and fair in performing their roles on the day of the elections. In reference to the functions of the departments of the Commission, I quote a statement from that piece on their official website which states that “Every part, every officer, permanent or temporary, forms a vital link in a chain".
For this reason, a lapse in performance by any part or officer negatively affects the entire Commission - just as a tooth ache affects the whole body. In this vein, the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, who is the Principal Returning Officer for the Presidential Election, the two Deputy Chairmen (Finance and Administration and the Operations Divisions), officials who are being appointed by the Commission at Head Office, Regional, district and Constituency levels and returning officers at the Constituency must work assiduously - and not to leave any stone unturned.
Consequently, in the case where any part or official of the Commission falls short in administering their mandatory and fringe duties owing to intimidation, inducement, ignorance and misdirection, then the whole commission suffers. From the website of the EC, it is understood that the EC is legally required to be adequately prepared to take up the most critical job in Ghana.
In reality, the Commission has been barraged by several issues some time, including from losing cases against some political parties on qualification. Several pieces of advice given to the EC to do away with those contentions, and to focus on the main election process because of limited time, fell on deaf ears of a stubborn entity. In the end, time and other scarce human and financial resources were wasted.
Nothing profitable was achieved in the interest of the country. We will let sleeping dogs lie and look forward to the EC being firm and confident to function without any form of inducement from neither the Incumbent Presidential or Parliamentary Candidates, nor the Opposition leader.
Considering events that unfolded before and after the past 2012 election, and even prior to this year's election, the Commission should be aware and well cautioned that both the Opposition and Incumbent parties are alert and shall not allow any fishy nor illegitimate actions or inactions to go on.
Therefore, the EC being the final point of call for a free, fair and transparent election, should not dabble in any unhealthy acts that may put the credibility of the polls and its outcome into doubt, which may consequently influence the state of the country's stability.
According to Joseph Stalin, "the people who cast the votes decide nothing; the people who count the votes decide everything". We hope this is well heeded to by the EC, and extra vigilance and fairness is pursued this year. The Electoral Commission is left with the choice to debunk Stalin’s assertion or leave it to be proven. The peace we are enjoying should be maintained and the EC has a key role.
Candidates in the Election are being categorized into Presidential - where there are six candidates who represent Political Parties (CPP, PPP, NDP, NDC, NPP & PNC) and an independent Candidate.
There are also other contests seeking 275 parliamentary seats by the political parties which are mainly between the CPP, PPP, NPP and NDC. The Political parties or political representation in both the Presidential and Parliamentary Polls are the second stakeholders of this year's Election whose conduct, ways, actions and inactions can continue the peace we are enjoying or lead to the instability that is far away from us.
The Candidates are also being categorized into the incumbent or the opposing candidate. The incumbent has much more privileges over the other but should note that the power of incumbency is not there to be abused and with caution, the incumbent should not try to use any Government Institution to impede the will of the people. Likewise the opposition should not too alarming to even be making allegations without evidences.
Representatives of the political parties at every level of the Electoral process should be equipped with the right training and committed to the Party's course so as to be up-to-task. Indiscipline acts such as bribing EC Officials or polling agents of opposing political parties, inducement, use of coercive power, abuse of incumbency, contracting and inciting people for violence are not in any way accepted or condoled in in the 2016 Polls.
It is condemned out rightly since they are acts that can dent how free, fair and transparent the polls can turn out to be. Beyond any individuals, group of people or political parties' parochial interest is the National Interest which stands taller and more critical than any of those interests.
Today, the 4th December, 2016 is exactly 4 days to the polls and so we challenge all the political parties to speak to their supporters to be of good behaviour.
The incumbent government should promise the people of Ghana and the world that it will allow the Security Services, the Media and the Electoral Commission to work without any form of inducement or coercive power to hinder the will of the people. During the intense part of the campaign, some misconduct, disagreement and slight conflicts were recorded in certain parts of the Brong Ahafo and Eastern Regions.
We condemn those acts out rightly as we gear towards the polls in 4 days. Perpetrators of those acts should be advised and even sidelined in the activities of the parties. I borrow the words of Jaachynma N.E . Agu to send a caution to all the parties as they wrap up with their campaign, “Don’t blow off another’s candle for it won’t make yours shine brighter.”
The Electorates are Ghanaians who are 18 years and above with sound mind and are registered voters. This group are being put in three categories- those voting for the incumbent, floating voters and those voting for the opposition. They should be aware that Elections come and go but the people of Ghana will forever live their normal lives.
Therefore, on 7th December, they are to make sure they vote alright but do not engage in acts that might cause any harm because life must go on. Also, electorates must ensure that their votes are being recorded as such since they have the right to the exercise and must not lose their votes. Most importantly, the Electorates should go out to vote on issues about development of the country through policies and proven track record.
And so those voting to retain the Incumbent should find convincing answers to the work being done in all the spheres of life of the people and those part of the electorates who are voting to change the Government must weigh the two parties in question from their policies.
We believe that when our leaders are being chosen on performance issues rather than other trivial issues, we will see the development we hope to see. The youth of Ghana form majority of the electorate and so I am sending this caution through this piece to let them know our foreseen better future we want to see is in the decision they are about to make come 7th December.
The African Youth should not give room for mediocrity nor condole incompetence and poor performance and so must go all out to vote for the best leader whose policies and track record is worthy of the development we hope to see. Theodore Roosevelt in one of his popular quote said “A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”
Security Services are the Army, Air Force, Navy, Police, Immigration, Fire Service, etc. They play key roles in ensuring stability at the Polling stations, Collation centers and National Collation points. As well they secure Election Materials and equipment.
Their position and interest in the Election has to be neutral in the execution of their professional duties because they stand in between the incumbent and the opposition in performing their duties. Some incidence were recorded whereby the Police could not bring to book certain known Political Party Gangs (Matso men) who vandalized people.
Looking into 7th December, any instance of such inactions alleged to have come from the Police might light up disagreement since the affected party should be more alerted this time. Therefore, all the security services must work so hard without any form of inducement to secure the Polling Stations and as well protect the people electorates, Observers and EC Officials throughout the process.
The traditional Media consist of the Print, Radio and TV- they play vital role in the Election by educating, advocating, announcing and revealing information.
Aside those three media is the social media and flyers, bill boards, etc. The Media in this year’s Election has played much significant role in marketing candidates and political parties fairly according to the financial. Although there are rented media houses who play the card partially for some political parties, on the average the Media has conducted itself fairly till date when they are reporting on the anomalies realized in the Special Voting exercise.
Some of the listened radio stations have hinted the Commission in charge of the exercise and requested solutions from them so as not to disenfranchise them. From close observation, the challenges will be resolved if the EC accepts their shortcomings and is ready to reconsider its strategies.
Now in just some few days to the Elections, we will not waste time to apportion blames and so the Media houses have to work hand-in-hand with the EC to educate the EC to do the right thing on 7th December.
The Media should do so well to hit the EC so hard in order to sit up and learn quickly from the challenges encountered in this Special Voting exercise so as to organize peaceful Election. Also, The National Media Commission (NMC) should be able to monitor the Media Houses in regularizing their work so as to sanity in the airwaves, screens and on the print.
The National Commission on Civic Education has the mandate to educate the people of Ghana about the citizenry. At this time, the country is at the verge of electing its Executive Head and the next Legislature and so the NCCE should be in the position to perform its functions as posited in the Constitution of Ghana.
The NCCE in this year's Election has not performed so well in educating the Electorate about the processes and details about the Election but has made some impact in exposing the policies and minds of the Political parties and their candidates.
They were under-resourceful in playing their Constitutional functions but with technical support of Star Ghana and UK AID as well as USAID, they have been able to host some of the Presidential Candidates in Debates. We are making the NCCE realize the need to educate the Electorates to come out to vote without any fear. Also, in this few days to the Polls, the NCCE should be able to spell out the Election processes in all Local dialect on Local Radio and TV Stations.
The Judiciary has played a key role in this year's election and it is much resourced to respond to any electoral contentions that might come up.
The Electoral Disputes that were sent to court in connection to the provisions on the Electoral reforms in the C.I 96 of the constitution were interpreted well to the parties in the contentions in the quickest available time. Most people were worried about the limited time left for the court to determine the verdict for those number of cases but with the wisdom of the Chief Justice, Electoral Courts were formed to handle only Electoral Cases.
In the situation of the Judiciary improvising in response to the rising number of Electoral cases, we believe doubts about the Election coming off this 7th December, 2016 is not shattered. We believe the Judiciary is ever ready administer justice to any misunderstanding brought forward for interpretation.
The Peace Council, Muslim Bodies, Christian Bodies, Traditional Religion, Observer groups, Civil Society Organizations, Diplomatic Corps play three major roles in the Election process which is Education, Mediation and Advocacy.
These bodies should play their roles with much urgency especially, in the function of mediation in any dispute. Considering the intensity of the Campaign and the rising tension, we caution them to work so hard at Polling Station level, Constituency level and District level before the situation gets to the National level in any dispute recorded.
With that all said, Abraham Lincoln's popular quote “the ballot is stronger than the bullet” summarizes this long piece for peace in Election 2016. I admonish all the stakeholders in this year’s Election to come into agreement to understand that the peace of the country is more necessary than any other interest.
Therefore, the Electoral Commission, Political Parties, The Media, Security Services, Observer Groups, Religious groups, Civil Society Organizations and any other key body in this year’s Election should put the National interest above any other interest so as to record free, fair and transparent Election to ensure peace during and after the Election.
Source: Acheampong Tutu (Executive President,IFEDGLOBAL)
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