Can the country consider appointing EC commissioners on political party basis?

Jean Mensah 480x375 2.jpeg?fit=480%2C375&ssl=1 Jean Mensa, Chairperson, Electoral Commission

Sun, 27 Dec 2020 Source: Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse

The 4th Republic has been praised by many governance experts and politicians for entrenching Democracy in the country. Unprecedentedly, the Republic has churned out eight consecutive Presidential and Parliamentary elections not without controversies though. But whereas the Republic is indisputably the most enduring in our nation’s history, we must do more to make it better and less contentious and more enduring.

To do this, we must pay a critical look at the election management body and architecture in the country considering that its success is a sure guarantee of the survival and stability of the Republic. The European Union Election Observer Team to Ghana’s 2020 General Elections has in its interim report highlighted an important issue, but which has not received media prominence and attention. In their interim report, the team raised issues with the appointment of seven Commissioners to the EC by the President of the Republic without it being inclusive.

According to the EU Observer Team, “ the appointment mechanism, whereby seven EC members are selected by the President for an indefinite tenure without consultation with the opposition, is not inclusive and does not build confidence.” This, they have serious issues with as it does not engender trust and confidence in this all-important national institution on which hinges the survival of the Republic.

Germane as their observation is, it will be simplistic to apportion blame to any Head of State under this Republic for upholding the relevant provisions of the 1992 Constitution by appointing members to the Commission especially when vacancies do exist. Instead, the country itself must look beyond the immediate challenges between opposition political parties and the EC by taking a bold look at the constitution after nearly three decades of its implementation. It is not far-fetched to argue that at the heart of the simmering tempestuous relationship and tension between the Electoral Commission and Opposition Parties in Ghana is mistrust and lack of confidence predicated on the assumption or fear that appointing authorities tend to appoint individuals who are sympathetic to their party’s cause to the Commission.

The fear is that such appointees will do the bidding of their masters even if there is no evidence of inappropriateness by such appointees. That was the case ahead of the 2016 General Elections when the then Opposition NPP was sceptical about the activities and body language of the then EC Chairperson, Madam Charlotte Osei. Ahead of the 2020 General Elections, the opposition NDC had similar mistrust for the Jean Mensah led Commission.

As a country, we need to recognize that for some unexplained reasons, confidence in our national institutions, moral society, voices of conscience and professional groups has been at their lowest ebb for some time now. More than ever, there appears to be too much of polarization in many of our institutions. Our churches and the prelate are accused of being politically aligned; the media are aligned based on their ownership structure and ideological disposition.

Professional groups are also divided on party lines such that people tend to mistrust our institutions and other critical institutions of democratic importance in Ghana. Even the National House of Chiefs is not spared. Things were brought to head in the media coverage of the 2020 general elections when members of the public were divided over which media houses or platforms they follow depending on their trust for the fecundity of the information being churned out by the platform.

In simple terms, this has the potential of creating room for multiple truths as far as the election results and information thereof are concerned even though the truth can only be one. This is dangerous going forward. Granted that the stability and survival of the most enduring Republic in our nation-state’s history rest on trust and confidence for our institutions, there is the need for impartial and disinterested but not ‘politically neutral’ state actors, media, religious groups, civil society organizations and moral society. For this, the country must begin listening to individuals such as Lawyers Sampson Lardy Anyenini and Martin Kpebu who have been pushing albeit unsuccessfully for the country to revisit the Constitutional Review Commission’s work which appears shelved.

In line with the observation by the EU Team, it will be in our best interest if the country begins taking very bold steps to reform portions of the 1992 Constitution to make it fit for purpose. This review process must include the portions on the composition of our Electoral Commission which appears to be suffering from the deficit of trust and confidence just because of the manner of their appointment. The EC Commissioners in the past and now were/are victims of appointment.

It is the mistrust for the appointing authority that is visited upon them. I am not unaware that there is a school of thought that thinks EC Commissioners should be elected, but not appointed by the President of the Republic as is the case at the moment. The argument is made that such a process will enable the masses of our people to have a say in who gets to serve in the EC. It will also mean that such individuals will get to serve at the confidence of the people and be accountable to them instead of the current system which appears to detach the members from the public. Such a process, people opine, will make the Commissioners owe their allegiance to the people, but not the appointing authority.

But this too has its own challenges. Experiences in this Republic have shown that such an attempt to make the composition of the EC elective will be an extension of the unseen political interference that we seek to remove. The election of Assembly members is sufficient enough to teach us enough lessons. The election of assembly members which is constitutionally apolitical has been turned into a pseudo-political election where major political parties field their candidates for each of the Electoral Areas, but who disguise themselves as politically neutral candidates.

Thus, whilst the call for the election of EC Commissioners may sound and in fact appears democratic, the bitter truth will be that the two major political parties will still sponsor their members to contest these positions and then disguise themselves as politically neutral Commissioners. That might even create more mistrust for the Commission than we experience now. Looking at the level of mistrust for the Commission by major opposition parties such that even if Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharubutu, the respected National Chief Imam and the Rev. Fr. Andrew Campbell, SVD, the Parish Priest of Christ the King Catholic Church (two of the country’s finest and apolitical moral voices of respect) are appointed as Commissioners, people will be suspicious of their steps, the country must allow realism and pragmatism guide it in its bid to engender confidence in the Electoral Commission in the event of any constitutional review.

Even though the framers of the 1992 Constitution meant well for the country when they made the current arrangement of appointing Commissioners into the EC, the realities we are faced with today dictate that the country ought to take very bold decisions of overhauling the current system of appointing Commissioners to the EC as a long term solution to the current challenges the Commission grapples with.

This bold and pragmatic approach may take the form of appointing the majority of the members of the Commission on true political party basis; a far departure from the current regime which sees the country appoints ‘politically neutral’ professionals but who do not command the confidence of the opposition parties because of the allegations – real or fictional – that such appointees are put there to do the bidding of the appointing authority and his political party.

Towards this, I propose that the country considers appointing a 7-member commission made up of two members each from the NPP and the NDC (each party must appoint at least one woman) and a member each by the smaller parties, coalition of civil society groups and the media.

Unpopular, absurd and shocking as the proposal might be, it will be worth pondering over and reflecting on. Unlike the current system which makes the Commissioners serve what can be described as an indeterminate term, the proposal can make the Commissioners serve a fixed term of seven years. Like the National House of Chiefs, the Commissioners will need to elect their own chairperson who will only be primus inter pares. The Commission must work on the basis of consensus building.

Whilst the proposal may appear hugely unpopular, it has the tendency of removing the elements of mistrust, lack of confidence, doubt, allegations of secrecy and opacity, favouritism and bias that appear to have dogged the operations of successive Commissioners. The proposal will remove the cloak of ‘political neutrality’ that is assumed to be a major consideration in the current arrangement of appointing Commissioners.

This proposal which is not far from the arrangement in the United States of America where politically elected governors of the respective states conduct elections that elect the President of the United States of America and members of Congress will engender confidence and trust for the Commission. There will be fluidity and trust in the flow of information between the Commission and the political parties on one hand, and between the Commission and the public on another hand. This will have an added advantage of slowing down the suspicions people have for the Commission.

It will make the operations of the Commission more transparent to all stakeholders including opposition political parties and eventually cut down on election-related court litigations whilst deepening peace in the country. Importantly, it will give unquestionable legitimacy to future winners of EC- organized elections in Ghana. And finally, it will reduce the tension and the threat of instability that appears to be a major characteristic of our general elections. This Republic whose founder – Jerry John Rawlings is dead – must survive all difficulties.



The writer, Gborse Nicholas Mawunyah, is a writer and conference speaker on topical issues in education, political-history, school leadership and innovations.

Columnist: Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse