Opinions Wed, 15 Aug 2007

Electoral Fraud and Vote Rigging: Can Ghana escape the Ivorian curse?

In 2000 Chief Justice Murray Gleeson of the Australian High Court defined fair democratic elections as “The democratic and lawful means of securing change, if change be necessary, is an expression of the will of an informed electorate". In 2000 elections in Ghana, the voters made their informed choice by electing the opposition NPP which campaigned on anti corruption agenda.

Flt Lt Rawlings, whose term came to an end in 2000, willingly handed over to the victorious party (in part, due to the pressure from ex Prime Minister Tony Blair, ex President Bill Clinton, ex President Chirac and others including his friends at the Bretton Woods institutions and the International Financial institutions who made it explicitly clear to Rawlings that, to secure his role in history for enabling democracy in Africa take root and to leave a legacy, he must give in to the will of the people) NPP without a gun being fired. Rawlings has got powerful backers in the army and still commands large following in the security forces, yet as a good democrat he has not made any attempt to intervene in the democratic dispensation, a process that he set up and promoted during his time in office. It is worth noting that during the “Miracle Years” Rawlings was hailed as a democrat and the West compared his mode of leadership to the Chilean leader late Gen Pinochet, who was then a darling of the West at the period in question. Ironically Gen Pinochet was the President of Chile during the “Chilean Miracle Years”. The prescription of the Structural Policies during the Chilean “Miracle years” and the human rights abuses were exactly the same as the Ghanaian “Miracle years” under Rawlings.

We often wondered what it would be like to create a model country based on unique political and economic beliefs. Well that was the regime put in place by the Bretton Woods institutions in Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia and a decade later repeated the same feat in Ghana, under strong and charismatic dictators, Pinochet, Suharto, Mahathir and Rawlings. Under the above mentioned regimes there were no opposition (opposition members were threatened with imprisonment and death, others lost their lives for challenging the regime), no political rivals and no compromise of morals.

In Chile, for 16 years under Pinochet dictatorship, the Chicago Boys (Between 1973 to 1989, a government team of young but extremely brilliant economists trained at the University of Chicago, with average age of 25 years) set in motion an economic model based on neo capitalist theory, by decentralising the Chilean state, leaving in its wake thousands of unemployed workers, income inequality grew severe, but with vibrant economy, which became known as “Economic Miracle” and replicated in many countries, including Ghana.

In Ghana, just like in Chile, the Bretton Woods institutions had another charismatic dictator in place. Under another brilliant technocrat, Dr Kwesi Botchwey and his bunch of Ivy League boys (group of young Ghanaian economists trained at the prestigious universities in North America and Europe) privatise the Ghanaian state by deregulating the market, liberalising trade, introducing user fees in education and health, rewriting the constitution, all under the absence of democracy.

The Ivy League Boys (a term coined by this writer during his post graduate research on Ghana’s Structural programs during the PNDC/NDC era) returned to Ghana completely indoctrinated in free market theory. During the “Miracle years” majority were based at the finance ministry in Accra, controlling most of its policies for economic planning. Like Pinochet, Rawlings, though a dictator, turned the economy over to the Ivy League Boys (under the leadership of Dr Kwesi Botchwey). These technocrats with PhD have run the economy according to the neo-liberal theories of their hero, Milton Friedman. Rawlings who came to power in 1981 as a firebrand military socialist, in desperation, turned to the free market policies advocated by the Ivy League boys (young and brilliant Ghanaian born economists trained at the prestigious business schools in North America and Europe). Within a decade, the Ivy League boys reversed Ghana’s economic stagnation, and the economy began to grow rapidly, averaging 5% per annum. Although the reforms have not solved all the problems of Ghana, yet a recent Work Bank study documents that Ghana’s economy is performing far better than the rest in the sub region. Although the resultant hardship that accompanied the structural policies is well documented, the economic changes initiated by the Ivy League boys in Ghana have spurred an economic and political revolution in sub-Saharan Africa that is spreading like wide fire.

Countries that once lack stability, like Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania now have stable democracies and vibrant economies, thanks to the young economists who return to Ghana to put into practice the knowledge they acquired at some of the best Business Schools in the world. The economic plan now being carried out in rest of Africa realises an historic aspiration of young Ghanaian economists, majority trained at prestigious universities, including Wharton, Harvard, Chicago, Michigan, London, Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, UC – Beverly, Princeton, Pennsylvania, Ohio etc. These young economists supplemented Rawlings military brutality with the intellectual assets it lacked.

Over the period of 15 years, Ghana has been able to put in place a clear distinction between the 3 arms of government and institute a strong rule of law. Some scholars have argued that elections are secondary to functioning democracy. Most have congratulated Ghana, and especially Rawlings for allowing democracy and strong rule of law to flourish in Ghana.

Like their earlier counter parts in Chile (The Chicago Boys) the brilliant “Ivy League boys” and their leader Dr Kwesi Botchwey and President Flt Lt Rawlings were invited to speak at conferences organised by the Bretton Woods Institutions. The IMF and the World Bank held Ghana up as an example to be emulated by the rest of the countries in Africa. During this period Rawlings “won” 2 elections in 1992 and 1996. At the end of the project, the Ivy League boys left debt, devastation, inequality and exploitation which was craftily branded by the Bretton Woods institutions and the International Financial institutions as “Economic Miracle” as a proof that the Ghanaian economy was a “success”. The Human Rights violations of the Rawlings regime were swept under the carpet by the West, all in the name of “democracy”.

There is a broad consensus among the academic community as to what kind of elections can be considered free and fair.

Nigeria's 2007 elections was condemned by all the electoral monitors from across the world, but decided to give democracy in that country chance by not objecting to the election of President Umari Yar'Adua, in part due to the instabilities that such a decision might bring not only to Nigeria, but the rest of the countries in the sub-region, including Ghana. Hence the reason why commentators and international opinion leaders are urging the NPP not to attempt to rig the 2008 elections, since such an act would degenerate into civil war. Thus far, Ghana is the only country in the region to have avoided civil war and have been highlighted to the rest of the continent as the good function government.

In many parts of Africa, including Ghana, politicians have been inflating votes by either buying or coercing votes from persons who would normally vote for another candidate. On the other hand, they can deflate votes by intimidating voters and preventing them from voting through random violence near polling places, or losing/misplacing ballot boxes as was the case in the recent Nigerian elections. The Nigerian experience was what prompted Professor Arthur Mills and the CPP to warn the ruling NPP not to attempt to rig the 2008 elections since the impact of that action might inflame the country. This is a warning that most are taking serious, for Professor Atta Mills is not just an ordinary politician, but a former vice President of Ghana.

Electoral fraud is not a new phenomenon. In United Kingdom, one historically popular technique of electoral fraud has long been known as "granny farming", where activists visit retirement homes, purportedly to help the old folks exercise their voting rights.

In 2000 elections in United States, the results in Florida which was withheld due to irregularities and was declared long after the court had ruled in favour of President Bush, turned out that ex President Al Gore actually won the state and thus must have been declared the winner, but instead the courts (skewed by judges appointed by Bush senior) ruled in favour of the real loser. In some countries electoral fraud is not always subtle. World electoral history is full of notorious examples of electoral fraud, especially in advanced democracies why such crimes are noticed, reported and are corrected before they turn nasty. In sub-Saharan Africa, as was the case in Ivory Coast, it can ruin a country's progress and reverse their development back decades. The barrier of voter registration is part of what keeps participation low. Removing barriers to registration and voting are difficult in certain countries as the people who hold power have no incentive to implement any advantages or removing the existing barriers. The barriers are increasing and this very dangerous, especially for a young democracy like Ghana's. This erection of barrier was the reason behind the Ivorian crisis that has now divided the country into two and the ensuing instabilities. When NPP took power in 2000, there were "hot heads" among their ranks who were openly questioning the nationality of Rawlings.....a man who ruled the country for well over 2 decades! Yet these are the same people who are sending their family abroad for safe keeping ahead of the 2008 elections. The question to need to ask is, "why are they sending their family overseas for safe keeping? What are they anticipating to happen? NDC had vowed to jail all the top NPP members, hence the panic among their ranks. CPP are the only party to call on the Ghanaian electorates to calm down and vote for them in order to bring much needed development into the country.

To counter electoral fraud, especially in democracies that are trying to set a stable economic recovery, or countries with high rates of corruption, international observers may be brought in to observe the elections. This happened in Nigeria, yet Yar'Adua was sworn in as the President elect. Again in 1996, Rawlings “election victory” was declared as “free and fair” by the International observers. The same year inflows from Ghanaians in Diaspora went up from below $200 million to over half a billion US dollars.

In 2006, remittances from Ghanaians in Diaspora cross the $4 billion mark, yet the standard of living for workers has crumbled further and poverty rate has gone up. Income inequality between the richest 20% and the poorest 80% has grown wider. A new currency has been introduced as ploy to show that the economy is growing that will allow more jobs to be created. With access to money, the NPP are in a very strong position to use the biases already in place to try and “win” the 2008 elections. With stark warning from Professor Atta Mills and the CPP, the jittery in the NPP has become clear.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Jeffrey, Peter