The “Silent” Aspects of Our 1992 Constitution

Tue, 6 Jan 2009 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Michael J.K. Bokor, Ph.D. E-mail: mjbokor@ilstu.edu

The return of the NDC to power is a relief to the numerous voters who have reposed their confidence and trust in its ability to solve pertinent national development problems. However welcome this return may be, it has come along with a baggage that must be unpacked even before Prof. Mills settles at the Presidency and gets his government to function. In this article, I will draw attention to one serious challenge that this return of the NDC poses to Ghana’s 1992 Constitution. This challenge, I’m afraid, is something that has been playing tricks with me for some time now and, which I think, is likely to create hiccups if it materializes and is not tackled expeditiously.

This major challenge is about the actual place and role of a former President in a government of his political party after his two four-year-term tenure has expired. Constitutionally, we know that the President is allowed only two consecutive terms in office. The heated debates that came up at the end of Rawlings rule created the impression that he (or any other former President, which Kufuor will soon be) couldn’t return to the Presidency at the end of the constitutionally mandated two four-year terms.

So far, those debates appeared to have ended with the understanding that once out of office, that should be it for such a former President. No eyebrows have been raised over the issue thereafter except the vitriolic utterances of NPP supporters who questioned why JJ Rawlings was actively campaigning for Prof. Mills and the NDC in the 2004 and 2008 elections. In effect, they expected him to remain in the political doldrums, having served his constitutionally mandated term in office. This stance is undergirded by other instincts that we can trace to the apprehension that such a former President might be seeking to return to the corridors of power through other guises and must not be countenanced.

Now, here is the latent problem that must be constitutionally determined before anything happens to create bad blood between these differing political interests that control Ghana. What will we say if a former President returns to the political stables in other guises that could still make him a power-broker and “virtual President”? I have asked this question because of the current developments that have returned the NDC to power and given me a faint distant hunch. Mind you, it is just a funny feeling, which I want to let off because I consider it to be meaty enough for public consideration and action toward using constitutional means to redefine and control. I don’t want anybody to say: Why didn’t we do anything about this issue hitherto?

Assuming that former President JJ Rawlings is appointed into the Council of State by the new NDC government and eventually becomes the Chairman of the Council of State, what will be our position on his presence in active national politics once more at that level? Will his being in the Council of State and not as the President a thing that will not touch raw nerves? Does our constitution define clearly what that will mean to the provision that debars such a person from returning to the citadel of power? Remember that even though the Council of State is constitutionally defined to play only an “advisory role,” it has an immense impact on national life and its functions are influential enough to make its Chairman a force to reckon with.

I am not trying to assume that the NDC hierarchy is considering JJ Rawlings for that role; but one cannot tell what the future will bring in our kind of politics that is full of probabilities and surprises. In a situation where the former President is still recognized as the prime mover of his political party, getting him to play a decisive role in the day-to-day administration of affairs is a possibility that his admirers will latch onto and vehemently defend. But what are the shock-absorbers that our constitution has to contain the fallouts? Take, for instance, the case of Russia, where Vladimir Putin completed his constitutionally mandated two-term but returned to power by another means and is still influential as the Prime Minister. Speculation is even rife that he is likely to return to the Presidency after the term of his successor expires, apparently because the Russian constitution is silent on all these trends of political somersaulting by a powerful President like Putin.

I don’t know why the situation is not so in the United States, for instance; but I’m convinced that the high degree of maturity and stability of the US system of constitutionally controlled democracy is the result of the over two centuries of trials and tribulations, which have resulted in numerous constitutional amendments. The stability in that system which we unreservedly acclaim today is the result of persistent monitoring and revision/amendment of the constitution. In any case, the packages that are given to a former President as his constitutionally defined benefits are enough to engage him for him to redirect his energy elsewhere. Just consider his numerous private and public engagements that leave him with little time (and room) to return to active national politics and you will understand why the US system is widely cited as an exemplar.

In our case, our Presidents are known to have left office under “deplorable” circumstances that make their after-office life more of a nightmare than anything to be proud of. If they survive the vagaries of the change-over at all, they are still persecuted or hounded in their private lives as if expected to just vanish into thin air and be forgotten. Treating them with disdain has been our lot.

So far, only JJ Rawlings and soon-to-be-out-of-office Kufuor are our two examples. While JJ Rawlings (for reasons best known to him) still continues to be in the limelight eight years after leaving office, we are yet to know what will become of Kufuor. If he chooses to take up the World Bank appointment, which he has already revealed as one of his options, he will be occupied with things other than Ghana politics, if he chooses to insulate himself. But should the NPP come back to power when he is alive and active, we may see the need to factor him into any discussion of his after-office politics in Ghana. The Ghanaian constitution is still young and fragile, not so much tested as to necessitate its redefinition or amendment. Some voices have already been heard objecting to constitutional amendments over some issues that I think are already in the public domain and need no reiteration here. What is new and suggesting itself to me is the presence of a former President in the Council of State. How do we handle that issue? I’ll leave the matter here for the law-makers in Parliament to take up if it pricks their conscience.

Nonetheless, I want to create a scenario here just for purposes of interrogating a Council of State that has a visible Rawlings presence under the incoming NDC government. What I want to do is to puzzle out this issue, which the constitution is silent on, and to use this scenario to draw attention to the imaginable implications of a Rawlings presence in the Council of State or any other structure for his participation in direct governance.

Here is the undeniable source of temptation for any possible irresistible move to include JJ Rawlings in the Council of State. The massive contributions of the Rawlingses to Ghana’s political development have already been etched in the annals of the country’s history, whether written or not. I will not bore anybody with a recount of those contributions. Believe-it-or-not, since May 15, 1979, JJ Rawlings has become an icon, who is difficult to sidestep or silence. Media coverage of anything associated with him is wide and he eclipses even his critics whenever his name or image looms large.

Those who admire him do so and will continue to hold him in high esteem (even to a tin-god level, which I don’t begrudge them). There are two sides to this iconic figure of JJ Rawlings in Ghana politics. Those who do not want to sacrifice the truth of the dire Ghanaian political, economic, and social circumstances in the second half of the 1970s until the emergence of JJ Rawlings will readily admit openly that JJ Rawlings is worth Ghanaians’ bother. His name is even on the lips of non-Ghanaians. He cannot be pooh-poohed and his personality is difficult to erase from the scene!!

But those who have their own entrenched positions to defend will continue to “lambaste” him. They will continue to dismiss the fact that as the leader at the time those excesses occurred, JJ Rawlings accepted the blame and has even apologized several times for the harm that they might have caused. That’s not for me to judge. Everyone is free to relate to him the way he or she chooses. That’s the individual’s own choice, which shouldn’t be rammed down everybody else’s throat by any organized political group for a blanket perception of him as an anathema.

Indeed, even his admirers will admit that his long rule had its negative aspects, which have over the years been exposed and condemned. Nonetheless, they still admire him; and he works the “magic” for the NDC in terms of support. The main yardstick for measuring those excesses could be held from different angles; but to be fair to him, we must continue to place those excesses within the appropriate historical circumstances which engendered his emergence into the limelight. He has already given us the picture. Times have changed.

Despite attempts by his die-hard detractors to vilify him, he still stands tall above them in many respects. No one who has followed keenly the recent happenings in the electioneering campaign period will dismiss him with a disdainful shrug of the shoulder. He still commands goodwill and will not fade away just because his critics wish it.

So, where does he stand in the current political dispensation? How will the new NDC behave in trying to do two things: ruling Ghana to solve the problems as contained in its manifesto; and ensuring that an Atta Mills government is neither a replica of the JJ Rawlings government or a conduit pipe for conveying Rawlings’s brand of politics? Let me clarify the second part of this dilemma with another question: How does Prof. Mills govern Ghana to erase the pre-election perception created by his political opponents that a “vote for Atta Mills is a vote for Rawlings”?

Without mincing words, I will strongly advise against projecting Rawlings through any office-holding capacity because anything of the sort will pose very serious challenges to the Prof. Mills government and dig a very big grave for the NDC as Ghanaians gradually wake up to the reality that Prof. Mills and his new NDC might only be fronting for the Rawlingses. How can Prof. Mills and his government repudiate the counsel of a JJ Rawlings’s Council of State, if ever anything of the sort emerges? There is need for a careful handling of issues so that the new NDC government can present a different image to Ghanaians and the international community. It must be a clear departure from the pre-2000 era to help move the NDC’s new Social Democratic dispensation to acceptable limits. Even though mine is a mere scenario about the implications of placing JJ Rawlings in the Council of State or any other structure for direct governance now that the NDC has returned to power and he is still active in national politics, I think that it brings up a more serious constitutional challenge that must be given some attention. Our law makers must look deeply into the Constitution and tackle issues of this sort that are not yet defined but which have the potential to test our resolve. The outcome of the 2008 general elections suggests strongly that Ghanaians are keen on moving the country forward on the road toward entrenching its system of constitutional democratic governance. Anything that can be done to tighten the screws in the constitution should be done to reinforce public confidence in the system.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.