Opinions Mon, 3 Mar 2008
– AN UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCESGhanaians Living Abroad (GLAs) do not have to vote in the coming 2008 Elections. Except for those few who work for Ghana’s missions abroad, the increasing thousands of GLAs have not voted in any of the four general elections since the adoption of the current 1992 Constitution. Therefore to pass GLA’s over for one more electoral cycle making it five in a row will make no apparent difference. The handful of GLAs who choose to vote can continue to pay expensive airfares twice; once to register and then to actually vote in Ghana. Regardless of how loud Barack Obama shouts “Change We Can Believe In” Ghana may choose to remain deaf to the cries of its GLAs for the expression of rights and inclusion. After all, Ghana, a poor country facing billions in debt simply cannot afford to extend absentee ballot to its citizens abroad and its Electoral Commission has its hands full to make sure that EVERY eligible Ghanaian is properly registered to vote and the December 2008 elections are fair and transparent. Make that every eligible Ghanaian who happens to BE IN GHANA, except for those fortunate to work for the government in its missions and peacekeeping assignments. Is this what is causing the singing of dirges for the implementation of ROPAA, at least for 2008? Walk with me to uncover an uncomfortable truth and its consequences. The arguments for and against the Representation of the People Amendment Act (ROPAA) have been made and need not be rehashed. On February 24, 2006 when H.E. John A. Kufuor assented with his signature to parliamentary Act 699, the case for ROPAA won. ROPAA broadens the right to register and vote from abroad from the small minority of Ghanaians working for the government in its missions and soldiers on peacekeeping assignments to include ALL Ghanaians aged 18 and of sound mind as Article 42 of the Constitution so states without regard to country of residence. The demonstrations, parliamentary boycott and very public debates that heralded ROPAA’s passage, triggered by the historic mission of the Diaspora Vote Committee (DVC) is simply unprecedented. DVC comprised a group of Ghanaians from all over the world who came to the country at their cost to make their case and put a human face to the arguments for extended franchise. How do we now explain ROPAA’s transition into a coma or even a quiet death before the very first vote under ROPAA is cast?
Truth – Political Decisions based on Fear In the lead–up to the passage of ROPAA by Ghana’s parliament on February 23, 2006, the two major political parties were at bitter ends; with the NPP passionately in favor and the NDC adamantly against it. The CPP and the other political parties were variously in between. The reason the NDC gave for their virulent opposition was that consensus had to be reached because there were several issues that would mar the implementation of ROPAA. The primary reason that is yet to be voiced is that the NDC is afraid that the passage and subsequent implementation of ROPAA will dim their chances of winning elections in Ghana since their party is seen as being one of the historical forces that drove a large number of Ghanaians outside their country as both political and economic exiles. The operative word here is FEAR
The NPP argued for ROPAA on the basis of rights and constitutional dispensation. What the NPP did not say then was that the passage and subsequent implementation of ROPAA would favor it in Ghana’s elections to a much larger degree than the NDC. The operative word was HOPE. But something happened on the way.
The more the NDC made noise about ROPAA being a plot by the NPP to “steal” the coming 2008 elections, the more NPP traded their HOPE for FEAR to the point that now both major parties in Ghana are afraid that if ROPAA is implemented, each would lose. While you try to make sense of this logic, for once the two major political parties in Ghana, with muted support from the smaller ones, are agreed that ROPAA is a mistake that should die quietly. Some are even calling for its outright repeal. Let the elections be won or lost in Ghana by Ghanaians living in or traveling to Ghana to vote. To this add the post-electoral crisis in Kenya and everyone, including the Electoral Commission, now feels comfortable with their position of FEAR. Not in our Ghana. We are a peaceful country and if it has to take the trampling of the rights and exclusion of its GLAs, so be it. A funny thing is that questions were raised about the difficulties of determining who is a Ghanaian among GLAs but I suppose once they board a plane headed home eligibility is no longer in doubt.
“When two elephants fight, the grass suffers” and so the people without a voice, the GLAs, are denied their whisper. They are expendable and that is the reality of politics. Power is not given away. It must be fought for. If you do not vote in the first instance, you can always be told to wait and “Rights”? No it is not about that. It is about power. And anything, that stands in the way of consolidating or reclaiming power, perceived or real, must be eliminated. The stated reasons do not matter. Welcome to the Winner Takes All of African Politics 101.
Consequence – No ROPAA, No Voting by Ghana Missions and a trap I am less bothered by whether or not ROPAA is implemented for Ghana’s 2008 elections than the short-sighted glee with which Ghana’s political entities and even parliamentarians are commissioning ROPAA’s coffin to simply wish it away. Article 699 is a law of the land. It is the only law that allows anyone outside Ghana to vote and elections are upon us. ROPAA has done away with the exclusionary and discriminatory voting of PNDC Law 284. Under this new law called ROPAA, either ALL GLAs vote or NO Ghanaian outside of the shores of Ghana votes.
As surely as morning follows night, the voting for 2008 will be surely challenged in court if the EC directs Missions and Peace Keepers outside of Ghana to vote in their respective locations in overt discrimination of the larger population of GLAs. The 2008 elections will be conducted under NPP’s watch and does this party that prides itself of the rule of law and constitutional integrity want the dubious distinction of being the first to deny voting to its Missions and Peace Keepers- first ever since 1957? Who is going to answer the torrent of lawsuits on discrimination and contravention of the constitution? Where are the legal luminaries of the NPP to sort these things out before the predictable day of reckoning? We are setting the stage for one party to challenge the results by claiming that, but for the denial of the rights of their constituents to vote from Togo, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, USA, UK. Nigeria, Italy, Germany, South Africa etc, they would have won handily. Any party that loses the 2008 elections can use this open invitation to go to court to challenge the mandate of the winner, therefore rejecting the results of the election and throwing Ghana into a post-electoral crisis. Who needs that?
The NDC is already claiming bragging rights to say to the NPP “I told you so”. There is a ROPAA trap and the Electoral Commission rather than being silent and potentially being seen as in one party’s pocket as was the perception in Kenya, should proactively take a position and at the minimum come out with its own phased-in implementation plan that would call for some minimal pilot approach in 2008 with a scale-up in 2012 and beyond. When your neighbor’s beard is burning, put a pale of water next to yours- so we say.
ROPAA is alive and has boxed Ghana’s electioneering into a corner. It was passed with a whole three years before its most immediate effect (December 2008). It would be very hard for the EC to argue that it did not have enough time to educate the stakeholders and implement the law. We may not insist that ROPAA should be implemented for the 2008 elections, much as some of us would, but we can insist that it cannot be dismissed obliquely. Something needs to be done or it will comeback to bite- repeal it or show signs of active and defensive implementation before December 9, 2008.
Columnist: Boateng, Kofi A.