Opinions Tue, 14 Aug 2012

Iddrisu communicates wrongly

A little knowledge, it is often said, can be dangerous! Ghana’s Minister for Communications, Haruna Iddrisu with a little knowledge of the constitutional history and politics of the United States recently became a victim to that aphorism! The Minister was understandably upbeat while speaking to Joy News shortly after the swearing in of Vice-President Kwasi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur in Parliament on Monday, August 6, 2012.

In ‘touting’ Ghana’s democratic growth, Mr. Iddrisu sought to draw a distinction between Ghana and the USA, pertaining to the “management of democratic transition.” According to Mr. Iddrisu:

“Ghana's ability to fill presidential and vice presidential vacancies within two weeks sets us above our US compatriot [sic] whose records in similar situations do not match up. Mr. Iddrisu then cited instances where the USA did not have a vice president to underscore his claim that Ghana “surpasses” the USA in the “management of democratic transition,” thus:

“It took US almost two years from 1963 to 1965 to swear in Hubert Horatio Humphrey following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he noted. Similar events happened between 1945 and 1965 with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

Mr. Iddrisu must be thinking that Ghana did it, because we followed a laid down democratic transition; while the USA faulted in her democratic transition!! He is given to such shooting from the hip. Iddrisu unceremoniously announced that the late president Attah Mills would be interred at the Jubilee House Presidential Residence and Offices, a decision many Ghanaians considered as grave insult and blasphemy!

Had Mr. Iddrisu read up on his US history correctly, he would not have fallen into the trap. While it is true that the US did not have a serving vice president at certain periods of its history, the vacancy was not the result of partisan bickering or political wrangling that created the vacuum. Rather, the vacancy was due to the respect for, and the potency of the U.S. democratic tradition and governance. The Constitution was silent on the matter of vice presidential vacancies. It took an amendment of the U.S. Constitution to change that, and empower a vice president who became president following the death or resignation of the incumbent president, to nominate someone to fill the vice presidential position.

Until such an amendment was effected, when the vice president assumed the presidency upon the death of a sitting president, the post of vice president remained vacant by law or lack of. Therefore, during the periods that Mr. Iddrisu referred to, in 1923 when Calvin Coolidge succeeded to the presidency following the death of President Warren G. Harding, President Coolidge could not appoint a vice president.

Similarly when Harry Truman became president after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945; and then later in the case of Lyndon B. Johnson who succeeded to the presidency following President Kennedy's assassination, each new president governed without a vice president. The new president served out the remaining years left in the 4-year term of the deceased president.

In the next presidential election, if the president decided to run for election for a new term of office, he would then nominate a vice presidential running mate to join him on the ticket for that election. If the president won the election; the nominee became the vice president, upon inauguration.

Harry Truman served as president from 1945 to 1949 without a vice president. However, when he won the general election in November 1948, his running mate Alben W. Barkley became the vice president when they were inaugurated for a full term on January 20 1949. Both President Coolidge and President Johnson who won elections to serve full terms, also served their new terms with their respective vice presidents.

The Constitution of the United States did not address or provide for the issue of filling Vice Presidential vacancies until the 25th Amendment of the Constitution was ratified and adopted in February 1967.

Therefore, when Spiro T. Agnew resigned as Nixon’s vice president in 1973 after being charged with accepting bribes; Nixon was able to appoint Gerald Ford as the new vice president and confirmed by both Houses of the U.S. Congress. When President Richard Nixon himself resigned a year later over the Watergate Scandal in 1974; Gerald Ford became president, and he immediately appointed Mr. Nelson Rockefeller to be his vice president; Rockefeller was confirmed by both The House of Representatives and the Senate to serve as vice president. President Ford and his new vice presidential candidate Senator Bob Dole (vice president Rockefeller did not run on ticket) ran for a full term in 1976, but lost the election to Mr. Jimmy Carter who became president in January 1977.

The United States of America is the leader when it comes to the “management of democratic transition.” When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in 1963, for example, then Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President, on the Presidential Plane known as Air Force One, on the tarmac of an airport in Dallas on November 22, 1963, a little over two hours after President Kennedy was assassinated. The oath of office was administered by a Federal Judge Sarah T. Hughes, who was called in from her house in Dallas to swear in the new president.

Ghana is making laudable progress on the democratic march. The orderly manner in which we have conducted the political transition since the death of President John Attah Mills has been simply remarkable. Ghana has put a distance between herself and particularly, other African countries, striving to achieve political stability; democratic governance; and the rule of law, after decades of autocracy and totalitarianism.

We must however, refrain from the temptation to overstate our accomplishments; desist from imparting misleading information (whether political or historical) to the people; refrain from needless and unnecessary chest thumping in our political discourse; and thereby avoid sticking our feet in our mouths as Haruna Idrissu seems to have inflicted upon himself!!!

Kofi Ellison

E-mail: sikadwa@justice.com

Columnist: Ellison, Kofi