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The Role of Political Parties in Ghana's Democracy

Mon, 30 Jun 2008 Source: GNA

A GNA Feature by Clemence Okumah

Accra, 29 June, GNA- Political parties have made invaluable contributions to Ghana's struggle for independence and the promotion of democracy and good governance. However, military interventions in party politics in the country have intermittently stalled the activities of Parliament, the Executive and Judiciary as well as political parties. But any time there is a programme to return to the country to civilian rule, political parties are always the first to resurrect to give the process a moving spirit as was witnessed by activities leading to the establishment of the Fourth Republic. Currently, the country is blessed with political parties of varied ideologies whose leaders have acquired political experiences spanning several decades.

Some of these political parties have drawn their inspiration and philosophies from tested political traditions, some of which have existed since pre-independence era.

For example, the Progress Party (PP) that ruled Ghana from 1969 to 1972 and the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) both trace their roots to the United Gold Cost Convention (UGCC), which was formed in 1946. The National Democratic Congress (NDC), which can be considered as a hybrid party, claims to be of the social democracy stock.

The Convention People's Party (CPP) and the People's National Congress (PNC) trace their roots to the Convention People's Party (Nkrumaism), which was formed in 1949 and governed the country since its independence in 1957 to 1966.

This rich background of political parties probably explains why Ghana, unlike some other African countries, is finding it easy in coping with the wave of democracy blowing across the continent. Essentially, political parties are providing a fertile ground for the advancement of the new political experiment and giving impetus to the promotion of rule of law, good governance and national development.

Undeniably, the political parties are serving as an umbilical cord between society and the state, ordinary citizens and social groups on the one hand, and organs of government on the other hand. The political parties provide psychological anchorage to some Ghanaians as political rallies that are often characterized by music and carnival throw supporters into state of ecstasy and give them a sense of belonging.

So crucial is the contribution of political parties to the country's multiparty democracy that it would not be out of place to describe them as the heart beat of the political system.

Even though the main function of Parliament is law making, political parties operating inside and outside the House are effectively serving as a check on the Executive, thereby providing the political balance needed in a multi-party democracy.

Walter Bagehot, a prominent British political scientist, gave credence to parties by saying: "Party organization is the vital principle of a responsible government. There has never been an election without party."

Ghanaians rely very much on political parties for shaping public opinion and gauging information and education on government policies and programmes.

But despite the contributions of political parties to national development, there is the need for them to intensify efforts to improve the political system towards accelerated development.

The parties would be required to collaborate in their efforts to sustain peace, unity and stability through diversity of opinions to enable them to fulfil their objectives.

Political parties must always have recourse to the 1992 Constitution Article 55 (4), which enjoins them to foster unity from diversity. Thus, they must ensure that they have a national character and membership devoid of ethnic, religious, regional or other sectional considerations.

Both the ruling political party and the minority parties are obliged to collectively push the national development agenda forward. Managing the affairs of a country is not a technical issue that can be handled by the wisest and best qualified people in society alone. No political party can claim to have an exclusive antidote to the country's socio-economic and political problems. The ruling party must, therefore, accept suggestions from the minority parties to promote good governance and national development.

On the other hand, minority parties are obliged to constructively keep the ruling party on its toes, scrutinize and criticize its policies and programme to help solve the myriad socio-economic and political problems facing the country.

Political parties are expected to support vital state institutions such as the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Electoral Commission, National Commission for Civic Education, the police, and government departments and agencies to carry out their functions effectively

The role of political parties in ensuring probity, accountability, transparency and preventing corruption, especially among government officials, is a regular feature of every democracy. The fight against corruption, in particular, is difficult and multifaceted and would require the collective efforts of all political parties.

Political parties would be expected to demonstrate their commitment to such a crusade by abiding by all laws regarding their financial operations. Political parties are reminded that they are required by the 1992 Constitution article 55 (14) (a) to declare to the public their revenues and assets and the sources of those revenues and assets. Parties are also, according to article 55 (14) (b), "to declare to the public annually their audited accounts and only a citizen of Ghana may make a contribution or donation to a political party registered in Ghana".

Political parties should complement the efforts of the National Commission for Civic Education in educating the public on the rights and responsibilities of the citizenry and the provisions of the 1992 Constitution.

This would help guide the people in all their activities to ensure law and order and stability for a law-abiding and hard-working population is a vital resource for peace and nation building. It behoves political parties to ensure that their members are disciplined, accountable and transparent in all their activities since the parties are avenues for the training of political leaders. This is very essential because, in a democracy, political parties have been a major vehicle for the recruitment of political leadership, providing electoral choice and peaceful political competition and framing of alternative policies.

Despite the differences in ideology, policies and programmes, political parties have the common goal of winning power to govern the country. The 2008 Election will provide them with such an opportunity. As the campaign leading to polls intensifies, leaders, members and supporters of political parties must demonstrate to the whole world that multi-party system has come to stay. They should avoid character assassination, insults, inflammatory statements and violence that could undermine the country's democracy. Political parties, despite the differences in policies, ideologies and manifestoes, have the common objective of ensuring peace, stability and unity for national development. No single party has a magic wand to the country's problems and all parties would be expected to work as a team to sustain and consolidate the country's fledgling democracy towards national development 29 June 08

Attention recipients, item 04 ends first cast.

Columnist: GNA