Political violence and democracy don’t work together…

Tue, 27 Mar 2012 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, March 26, 2012

The stakes in Election 2012 are already too high and can’t be glossed over in any discussion of the political situation in the country.

As the Mills government struggles to persuade Ghanaians that it is performing well and should be given the mandate for a second term, happenings in the NDC confirm that the internal crisis isn’t being solved to strengthen the party for the polls. The time-bomb that is ticking off for the NDC is threatening to derail President Mills’ ambitions.

As usual, former President Rawlings continues to be in his element, heaping biting comments on the populace to the effect that the Mills government “is leading the country into an abyss.”

Then, comes another low blow. Despite the glaring cracks in the NDC, which is fast eroding public trust and confidence in it and the government, the party’s General Secretary, Johnson Asiedu-Nketiah, sees things differently to suggest that the NDC is “solid.”

At the same time, the rivalry between the NDC and the NPP is intensifying, especially now that the biometric registration exercise has taken off, although beset with teething problems on the very first day.

As the NPP leaders become bloated with optimism and make pronouncements to condition the NPP followers’ mind that victory for the party is a certainty, we don’t need any more indicators to conclude that the political atmosphere is already fully charged to explode at the poke of a finger.

What we can infer from this situation is that the NPP leaders may be creating conditions to dispute or reject outright the results of the elections if the NDC wins. By taking this early step to prepare their followers’ minds, the NPP leaders want to be a step ahead in enforcing their “All-die-be-die” agenda.

To give them enough justification that they will win the elections, they are quick to point to the supposed discontent against the Mills government over its policies or programmes—and, indeed, general (poor) performance—as indicators of voter anger, which they want to exploit.

With these high hopes already manifesting in their electioneering campaign stunts, it is certain that they will reject the election results if anything happens to the contrary. Yet, the NDC is also cocksure of victory and will not readily concede defeat.

Certainly, both the NDC and the NPP have already assumed hardline positions and will not easily shift grounds if the results prove otherwise.

Obviously, this situation is not healthy and will be further worsened as the biometric registration adds more worries to what we already have to contend with. Indeed, a lot has happened since Saturday (March 24) to confirm that the registration exercise is beset with serious problems, which will negatively affect the upcoming elections unless rectified.

That violent incidents occurred at some registration centres is not unexpected. Considering the stiff opposition that the NPP put up to the exercise before it even began, it is not strange that its leaders are accusing the Electoral Commission and the NDC of skewing the exercise in an attempt to either disenfranchise voters in the NPP’s so-called strongholds or to register non-Ghanaians and make it possible for the elections to be rigged in favour of the NDC. Both the EC and the NDC have quickly denied any complicity to that effect. But the NPP doesn’t seem to be satisfied.

On top of it all, the NPP is griping about security issues and accusing the government of either manipulating the security services to do its bidding or creating a Special Forces Unit in the Ghana Armed Forces to intimidate the NPP followers and help the government implement its agenda of rigging the elections.

Viewed within the context of the violence that has characterized the exercise in some parts of the country, one can cautiously say that much suspicion and uneasiness still exist. The future is, therefore, forbidding.

Another problem that makes the problem more troubling is the manner in which the EC is conducting this biometric registration exercise. Technical glitches made it difficult for people to be registered in some areas. The EC is now telling us that some of its staff haven’t been trained to operate the technical tools, meaning that the EC itself hasn’t fully prepared for the exercise. Yet, the elections will cost 243 million Ghana Cedis! Will we call it a waste?

Again, as is usual of situations for which the EC isn’t prepared, the logistics needed for the exercise couldn’t get to some registration centres on schedule.

We have another instance in which the NPP is accusing the EC and the NDC of creating new registration centres without its knowledge. If that is true, then, the EC has a lot of explaining and soothing to do. Otherwise, I have no doubt that the situation will be worse on Election Day.

We also take issues with the government in another area that is problematic. The creation of new districts and municipalities has aroused bitter criticisms from residents in many parts of the country affected by the government’s action.

In the Okere constituency and Aflao (Ketu South), for instance, the people are not happy about the demarcation and re-districting. Although those in Aflao couldn’t make good their threat not to participate in the exercise, those in the Kasena-Nakana District did so in protest against the creation of new a district in that constituency.

It beats my imagination why the government took such an action without first hob-nobbing with stakeholders in those areas. What would it have cost the government to consult the chiefs and public figures in the various areas to determine how the re-districting should be done without provoking anger among the people?

As is characteristic of governments that profess adherence to democratic principles but choose to do otherwise in reality, the Mills government failed to do proper groundwork before announcing the creation of the new districts and municipalities.

Solving this problem will go a long way to affect the electoral process. How to do so now to allow for a smooth registration of voters is the challenge. I have serious doubts whether the government will even attempt solving this problem. By this unilateral action, the government has angered residents in those areas and will definitely be punished at election time unless it does the right thing to win trust.

There was no public education on the re-districting. The point is that the districts and municipalities are meant for political administration purposes only, not for general elections, which is within the purview of constituencies. One expected the government to make the distinction clear and to get residents of the affected areas’ consent before going ahead to create these new administrative areas. But it didn’t do so and shouldn’t blame the residents for opposing its action.

We have also heard threats from residents of other communities to vote against the government for not fulfilling its 2008 electioneering campaign promises. Such people will be difficult to persuade, which means that the government is losing grounds there too. That’s its own cup of tea, though.

By the time we get to Election Day, many new developments will occur to change the situation altogether. Unpredictable though the future may be, we can use history and current happenings to suggest that the situation in the country may not be tranquil if the agitations persist and degenerate further.

What we have witnessed so far only presages an uncertain future. We expect the government, the leaders of the political parties, and the EC to be prescient enough to do what will avert any mayhem.

Although the EC may claim that the logistic and technical difficulties facing it are genuine, we expect Kwadwo Afari-Gyan and his team at the EC to do better, knowing very well how emotionally invested all the stakeholders are in the 2012 elections. This political ritual of registering voters should be done properly to allay all fears, doubts, and suspicions. Then, we can begin educating the electorate on how to comport themselves on Election Day so as not to tilt the table to throw the country into chaos. We must do all we can to nurture our democracy without institutionalizing political violence.

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.