Our dear nation, Ghana, will be choosing a new president toward the end of 2008, and while such a scenario is a tribute to the maturity of Ghanaians in overcoming the acerbic atmosphere, oddities and blatant inter-party hostilities that were associated with each of the four preceding presidential elections, dating back to 1992, the simple notion that Ghanaians will be conducting their fifth consecutive presidential election portends a great future for the nation, a truly avant-garde phenomenon. But patting ourselves on the back too soon could distract us from the monumental task ahead in November 2008, when several parties will, once again, test their mettle within the general populace to see which party produces the man with the mandate to lead the nation from 2009 to 2013.
That past elections won by Jerry Rawlings (1992 and 1996) and John Kufuor (2000 and 2004) were replete with accusations of electoral malpractices is a known fact to many Ghanaians old enough to have actually participated in one or all of those four presidential elections. It truly had taken the magnanimity and selflessness of the losers in those elections to declare that, with or without perceived electoral fraud, they would not make any utterances, or perform any actions, that would disturb the prevailing peace in the nation. While defeat in any election, particularly a presidential one, may be hard to swallow, the losing aspirant(s) must honor their fellow citizens by doing what is right: congratulating the winner and putting to rest any possibility of trouble and armed conflict within the nation’s borders. These are salient lessons for modern Ghanaian politicians, even as the 2008 presidential election approaches.
There is something dignifying about the Ghanaian spirit, an inexplicable propensity for tranquility that makes mockery of the parsimoniousness and lawlessness pervasive in some neighboring countries. If Ghanaians are innately fearful of armed conflict and death, as some argue, then that is really a good thing, for this primordial disposition, if there really is one, has helped in the preservation of our society, even while other nations around us have not been so fortunate. The tenacity and forbearance of the Ghanaian should not be taken for granted, however, for there is a limit to everything, as the saying goes. In today’s politically charged atmosphere ― Ghanaian citizens are becoming more adept at the democratic process ― the notion of bona fide, or implied, threats by any person or group to rig the 2008 presidential election could cost the nation precious lives and millions of dollars in damaged property, not to mention the untold hardships that many citizens would be forced to endure. Who could have imagined that Kenya will be in flames at the present time?
One of the dangers inherent in any fledgling multiparty system of governance is the temptation of the government in power to rig a succeeding election ― to either extend the presidency of the incumbent, in conformity with the nation’s constitution, or hand over power to a member of the same party, in an attempt to prolong the status quo. Such an inducement, if not restrained, can have catastrophic consequences, resulting in violence, the intimidation of voters, the harassment of members of the opposition, and tyranny, among others. It is the prayer of Ghanaians that no presidential aspirant would consider the ascent to the presidency a birthright, but rather a privilege. If all the 2008 presidential aspirants truly love Ghana, none of them would risk the nation’s welfare and security via his utterances and actions during and after the election. Peace-loving Ghanaians are already calling on politicians on the ballot to start toning down their rhetoric, as a few recent utterances from apparatchiks of the NPP, CPP and NDC, and even some of the aspirants themselves, can only be termed as callous, disingenuous and downright perfidious!
In the event of a conflagration, even those occupying the top echelons of power will suffer some individual losses, so no one should trivialize the gravity of what Ghanaians face in the upcoming election. In multiethnic societies ― most African societies are, indeed, very diverse ― a careful political intercourse among various participants is necessary to forestall obvious bias and preferential treatment in all facets of government life. Moreover, no tribe, or ethnic group, must see itself as a repository of political power, for promoting such a mindset is the quickest way to divide the nation along ethnic lines.
While foreign groups, mainly from donor countries, have had the privilege of observing and monitoring Ghana’s previous four presidential elections in the modern era, Ghanaians do not necessarily need such groups, in order to conduct a free and fair election this year. With an Electoral Commission that has been in place for close to two decades, the finer elements necessary for holding a peaceful and transparent election should have been mastered by now. While I do not advocate the denial of visas to members of any foreign group interested in monitoring this pivotal election, I pray that the presence of any such group will be no more than a mere formality: it should simply confirm what Ghanaians would have done on their own: the holding of a free and fair presidential election. After all, turning away foreign observers would only create the impression that the government in office intends to rig the election. Moreover, post-election statements from these observers are crucial for any future procurement of needed funds from donor countries and Western powers to help our fledgling economy. I wish to also suggest that if a foreign group decides to observe and monitor the general election, it must come with a large number of observers for deployment to as many polling stations as possible.
Perhaps, the most important step the Electoral Commission and the various political parties need to take in tandem is ensuring that the registration of voters is without flaw: double registrations and inflated registers, if any, should be exposed and corrected before the general election is held. Additionally, any party official caught attempting to inflate voter registers should be arrested and debarred from all polling stations until after the election. Getting party members to register before the required registration deadlines is essential for a good turnout for each party, as was recently espoused by Jerry Rawlings of the NDC, which, for all intents and purposes, is a message for all Ghanaians of voting age and different political persuasions. As such, great efforts ought to be exerted at this time by the various political parties to register potential voters. And once voter registrations are concluded nationwide, each political party’s total register figures should become public knowledge ― this process will eliminate the padding of voter registers in the future.
To further buttress the openness of the election, all political parties must make sure the Electoral Commission grants the parties’ representatives full access to vote-counting at all polling stations, more so in the strongholds of adversaries. The absence of this kind of transparency had in the past provided political parties the ammunition to question the integrity of an election. And once votes from each polling station are counted and each party’s representative becomes a signatory to the declared results, the information must be transmitted instantaneously to the Electoral Commission’s headquarters in Accra for further collation. If full transparency is allowed at each polling station, no person, or political party, will have cause to question the reliability of the electoral process. Foreign observers must act in an exemplary manner by taking a neutral position at all times; they should be quick to report to the Electoral Commission for full investigation any reports of voter intimidation or vote-rigging.
Finally, for obvious reasons, Ghanaians should accept the results of the 2008 presidential election in good faith, once the Electoral Commission declares the final tally, so long as the necessary steps are put in place now to avoid malfeasance during the actual voting process in November 2008. We must all remember that Ghana is bigger than any individual or political party, which means that maintaining security in the country after the 2008 presidential election should be the paramount goal of the winning and losing candidates alike. Any breakdown in law and order will lead to very serious repercussions, and all Ghanaians know that the nation simply does not have the money or resources to restore order in a short time. In the event of trouble, everyone’s life ― the rich and powerful will not be exempt ― will be disrupted, so there will obviously be no winners, just losers. I hope and pray that all Ghanaians will remain civil and vigilant during the entire election, to prevent any person, or group of persons, from destroying the relative peace the nation has enjoyed since independence.
The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, in addition to two undergraduate degrees, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.