President's comments on 2008 ROPAA implementation unfortunate
Facing a sentence of life imprisonment, Nelson Mandela said in the famous Rivonia Trial on April 24, 1964: “Democracy is an ideal I wish to live for, but if need be, it is an ideal I am prepared to die for.”
President J.A. Kufuor is reported in the Ghanaian Times ( Friday May 25, 2007) to have said at a meeting with Ghanaian residents in Belgium that his Government had good intentions in passing the Representation of the People Amendment Act (ROPAA) in February 2006 but its implementation should wait until a national identity card system is implemented first. When will this be? The President certainly does not think it would happen in time for the 2008 national elections therefore from his perspective and to stay above any suspicion of fraudulent elections, Ghanaians Living Abroad (GLAs) should wait and sit out 2008.
National identification cards have not been a requirement of voting since universal suffrage was introduced into the Gold Coast and continued into Ghana. Given this, does the President’s declared position portend a constitutional crisis that may actually mar the 2008 elections if ROPAA is not implemented? Three GLAs have filed a writ in a court in Kumasi to seek performance by the Electoral Commission. It is unfortunate that while this is pending, our dear President has to make this statement and speak about the government’s intentions in the past tense.
So far we have not heard anything from the Electoral Commission about how they plan to register GLAs to vote knowing that there is no national identification system in Ghana as there has not been for all four national elections under the 1992 constitution. It is unfortunate that our internationally esteemed President has taken a public position that may prejudice the EC’s work and set the stage for unending challenges to the 2008 election results. If the real concern is the identification of a Ghanaian and cost, we already have the dual citizenship law that is hardly promoted but if done, could generate enough registration fees to finance overseas voting. We dare say that GLAs are more documented, in spite of reports of fake Ghana passports, than would warrant an across- the-board dismissal. It is unfortunate that Africa’s darling President would in the same speech cite fear of being accused of rigging elections as another reason to freeze ROPAA’s implementation. If these reasons are taken to their logical conclusion then the entire 2008 elections in Ghana should be frozen because when the book “Stolen Verdict” was written after the 1992 elections, the votes did not count GLAs (except for the very limited classes under PNDC Law 284). The rigging that the publication complained about was done not in New York or Lagos but in Ghana.
Of course, in a simplistic way, others may question the value of ROPAA when the country is thrown in darkness and faces many problems of subsistence. To this we answer that there are several tracks to nation building and development. There will always be significant problems facing the country and indeed those same problems account for the increasing number of Ghanaians who leave their country and feel duty-bound to deny themselves and send money home to prevent the bottom from falling from under their families- something the President gratefully pegs at $4 billion. If the logic is to wait until all the “serious problems” are solved, then we might as well say that we only pay lip service to democracy and inclusion of all Ghanaians in our national development. The vote is step one to getting all hands on deck to solve the problems that haunt all of us whether living at home or abroad. Poor roads, inadequate power and poverty have always been with us since Dom Diego de Azambuja set foot on our land in 1482 yet these have not stopped national elections. In deed they did not even stop the extension of the vote to a select group of Ghanaians living abroad i.e. those in the government’s service. Why now?
If Act 699 (ROPAA) is not implemented for the 2008 national elections, does it mean that people serving in Ghana’s missions and international organizations; military assignments abroad ; and on Ghana Government scholarships will also not vote in 2008? If their franchise continues in the presence of the 2006 ROPAA that extends the same right to vote to ALL Ghanaians of 18 and sound mind without regard to residence, then who would answer to claims of discrimination and abrogation of rights? We await the Electoral Commission to tell us why or why not; how and when. Constitutionally, the Electoral Commission is the only body mandated to come out with the modalities for the implementation of Act 699 which Parliament has passed and the President has duly assented to. It is unfortunate that the President did not wait for the EC’s recommendations, and defer his comments, without prejudicing the pending court case against.
The ethos of Mandela lives, even among Ghanaians.
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