Opinions Wed, 24 Mar 2004

NPP and NDC: You Owe the Nation A Free and Fair Election

Politics is an intoxicating business: the voter registration exercise is barely off the ground, and already, the two country's two main political parties, the NPP and NDC, are browbeating each other. Both have unleashed party agents on registration centers across the country to dabble in something that is best left to the Electoral Commission.

But while the parties are at it, let them be warned: the integrity of the November election and its peaceful outcome rides on their shoulders.

Recent reports that NPP and NDC agents are duplicating the work of EC workers at some registration centers in Accra and elsewhere in the country are unsettling. The indication here is that the parties are pulling no stops in their quest for the ultimate political prize ... Osu Castle -- in November.

But, in the drive to win, the parties are inadvertently fashioning the perception that one party may attempt, however subtly, to hijack the election if the other as much as turns its head for a second. I understand the vigilance, but it is misplaced. Precious time could be better spent by the parties in educating their supporters on registration, voting and the need for emotional control and levelheadedness in November

There is much evidence to suggest that the current registration exercise is riddled with problems. In addition to the blatant interference in Accra by NPP and NDC agents, a man in Tamale allegedly brandished a gun after his attempts to register were reportedly rebuffed by some party agents. While this may not be a harbinger of things to come in November, it is certainly not an isolated incident.

Need we remind the NPP and NDC that Tamale and Asutare were the scenes of bloody inter party feuds last year. Instead of helping to douse the flames, the parties are making things worse with their rabid rhetoric and empty bravado.

Something ought to be done. And fast. Authorities have to assure eligible Ghanaians that in the final prelude to the November election, everything is being done to ensure that every vote would count. The first step in this direction for reining in of party agents at registration centers. Anything short of that, would cast doubt on the ultimate outcome of the election.

Poor EC...... the commission has been grappling with financial problems for years. In fact, its problems have been well documented. The truth is, the EC, an agency that is supposed to be nonpartisan and a buffer against voter fraud, has been defanged over the years. It has been starved of funds, resulting in poor worker morale and inadequate equipment.

The government bears sole responsibility for the commission's woes. Long before the start of the registration exercise, the NPP should have come out with a coherent policy on financing the EC through November and beyond. Money is the lifeline of the EC. Without capital, the commission can barely discharge its functions.

Didn't it ever occur to anyone in the administration that an outfit of this magnitude deserves all the financial assistance the government can muster? More importantly, why wasn't enough money appropriated in the current budget to address the needs of the EC?

What many Ghanaians of varied political persuasions want to know is this: why is it so easy for the government to somehow come up with $20,000 a piece for legislators to buy cars ... and there have been many financial shenanigans ... yet, when it comes to financing the smooth operations of the EC, the government scratches its head?

Suddenly stumbling into some money at the last minute as the government did last week, is suspicious at best, and does very little to inspire public confidence in the political process.

The EC is like the forgotten old pair of shoes, cast away in the closet for years only to be retrieved when its usefulness becomes obvious. Indeed, despite reassurances from its chief, Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan, that the commission is well prepared for the registration exercise and November election, others aren't so sure.

"If the Electoral Commission was not prepared to undertake the registration exercise, it should not in the first place proceeded to start it," said Dan Lartey, the Great Consolidated Popular Party presidential candidate in a radio interview.

The EC's problems notwithstanding, what is apparent to all political observers is that, the two main parties haven't learnt their lessons from the last general election when they sniped at each other, and traded accusations of voter fraud and double-dipping. Four years later, little has changed. Each party is desperately trying to snap up the plums this year, thus the current animus....

But bitter inter party squabbles aside, the two political behemoths must put on their best behavior...that is...the November election must be conducted in such a way as to dispel any notion of voter fraud. The nation has a lot to lose ... in a region long tormented by political unrest, every eye would be on us in November. We can't just afford to disappoint.

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

Columnist: Yahaya, Moses Kofi