ACCRA — This will not be the first. We have won a few important battles in the past but we lost the wars on the same day. It’s almost an accepted pattern in these parts–that the winner of a democratic election must fight another battle to affirm the general will of the people. The battle is won but the war is lost when we express any level of incredulity in our electoral systems and processes, to provide grounds for another contest after the ballot. Zambia is presently going through the motions.
Ghana went through a similar process a few years ago. We have lived with many paradoxes in this country, and we have placated ourselves with the equally paradoxical thinking that the problem that does not kill you only makes you stronger. In the end, though, we are not sure whether we have become stronger or we have merely gone through the motions. We spent eight months in court following pink sheets.
The governor and the governed
On a normal day in any election period, a satisfied voter may not at all be a satisfied Ghanaian. Apparently, a satisfied voter is a dangerous person, especially if the things that satisfy them have a carnal price. Those who have followed our checkered political history since the first republic, worry that if we negotiate a cheap price for our voting thumbs, we will be charting a thorny path for our people and our democracy.
In the 18th Century when Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) published ‘The Social Contract’, the idea that government attains its right to exist and govern by “the consent of the governed” was a radical one. Today, the inalienable sovereignty of the voter makes the governed more powerful than the governor. The voter wields considerable power and influence over politicians. When they come preaching prosperity and promising change every election year, they are primarily begging the voter for a contract.
Even by our standards, we are able to think alongside the likes of Rousseau–that the general will of the people should be evident in a well-ordered society, and that a vote is a necessary requirement in determining our supreme will. Rousseau thought wrong. Ours is not an ordered society, not to talk of a well-ordered one. Less than four months to general elections, we should be discussing quality debates, instead of vote buying.
Vote buying and national ID
A pre-electoral survey conducted by the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) has revealed that the two major political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) are involved in vote buying, with the ruling party recording 51 percent while the NPP’s activities account for some 32 percent. The survey did not report any pre-voting maneuvers in the campaigns of the other parties.
Responding to these concerns at the recent UNDP led Maendeleo Policy Forum, the Electoral Commissioner, Charlotte Osei, was loquaciously philosophical: “When someone buys your vote and comes to office, you suddenly expect that person to be an incorruptible leader. It is paradoxical.” The forum, which is part of the UNDP’s Regional Service for Africa, provides a space for international mediators, researchers and development practitioners, to discuss critical development issues in Africa.
“It is important that we become more responsible the way we vote. We should not vote along ethnic lines but on issues. You should not expect politicians to buy votes because once they buy votes, you lose the power to complain,” she underscored. She also identified the lack of a national identification system as a hindrance in determining the citizenship of a voter and the already familiar problem of minors voting as adults.
In a well-ordered society, these things do not happen. We made an unpalatable cocktail of jokes out of stories that did the rounds during our previous elections, which included funny tales of party die-hards carrying coffins stuffed with already stamped ballot papers. They would deliver it to the next polling station in the adjoining town to be counted among genuine votes. Here too, we lived with a few paradoxes.
In the strongholds of some political parties, we made another cocktail of even funnier jokes. In total defiance of the principle of one man one vote, it was fashionable for a voter to ask another in an election period: “How many times have you voted today”? It was part of the growing up process. It was even funnier when a candidate reported a zero vote at the polling station where he cast his ballot. “Do I hate myself so much that I would vote against for myself?” We have lived with this paradox too.
Thankfully, we have moved on. The growing up process has paid off and made us a better people–even in a society that is battling with open defecation. The CDD survey has some good news for us. Some 60 percent of Ghanaians have confidence in the Electoral Commission and trust it to deliver credible elections in December 2016. This is a good omen. With the constant bastardization of the EC, particularly against the person of the Commissioner, we were not expecting a pass mark for the election body.
Incumbency and honour
We expect the EC to win the battle in December 2016 and win the war, too. Can the EC or any other institution manipulate election results in favour of any presidential candidate or political organisation? The Zambians think so. Commissioner Osei recently told TV Talk Show host Paul Adom-Otchere that a polling agent is in a better position to steal the vote than the EC leadership. At this point even the naysayers believe her.
To deliver free and fair elections, however, the conduct of our political parties must be regulated in accordance with the law. At what point does the President’s ‘Accounting to the People’ nationwide tour morph into a political campaign? As president of the nation, does he abuse the incumbency advantage if he exercises what is ordinarily his presidential function–by commissioning a water plant in an election period?
The NPP is making a ‘dissension of a doit’ (case out of nothing or something small) with the incumbency argument. They did the same thing. So far, the most mature and decent political campaign is the PPP’s, according to Peace FM’s Kwami Sefa Kayi. Ace broadcaster Kwaku Sakyi-Addo agreed when he was asked the same question on GH One’s ‘The Lounge Show.’ The media have already chosen their president. They have chosen well.