By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Folks, the Supreme Court today ordered the Electoral Commission to do a number of things to make the existing voters register credible for Election 2016:
1. To delete from the electoral roll names of all dead people and persons who used the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) card to register to vote.
2. To allow those whose names will be removed because they used the NHIS card as proof of citizenship to register, an opportunity to register if they qualify.
3. To remove from the register all minors who registered in the last elections in 2012.
4. The EC must do all it can to consult others in its work.
The Supreme Court noted that the register in its current form, is not "reasonably credible". The Court's verdict was in response to the suit filed by two opposition politicians— Abu Ramadan (a former youth leader of the People's National Convention) and Kwame Baffoe (an NPP youth leader) who claimed that the voters' register in its current state is not fit to be used for the November election.
Their suit followed the Electoral Commission’s rejection of demands to compile a new voters' register. The plaintiffs had argued that the EC should at least conduct an exercise to clean up the document by removing names of persons deemed ineligible to be on the roll. To them, then, this validation process would be deemed a compromise after months of pressure from opposition parties on the EC yielded no results. Thus, the Supreme Court’s verdict would compel the EC to clean up the register.
Some in the opposition camp may be tempted to celebrate this verdict and tout it as a validation of their concerns. But any celebration will be misplaced and short-lived. First, I don’t think that the Court’s verdict signals any victory for the plaintiffs and their political camps. It is a verdict that will not be easy to obey. It isn’t any different from what the Justice Atuguba-led Supreme Court panel suggested at the end of the NPP’s useless 2012 petition hearing. How many of those recommendations have been implemented by the EC? Why add more?
The EC has already begun the limited registration exercise; and we are already being told about improprieties regarding the registration of minors or undesirables from neighbouring countries. The NPP and NDC are blaming each other for those improprieties while the EC grapples with technical hitches here and there. Who will solve these problems before they add up to what the Supreme Court is asking the EC to tackle?
Second, the minors registered in 2012 may no longer be minors four years down the lane. So, if the EC goes ahead to delete their names from the register—which may be possible only at a later date from the limited registration exercise currently going on—when again will they be registered to participate in Election 2016 on November 7?
Again, by asking the EC to delete names of those registered on the basis of the National Health Insurance Scheme’s cards, the Supreme Court hasn’t given the EC any concrete and workable solution. On what basis will those people now be re-registered, granted that there is no other authentic national identity card to validate their identities?
Furthermore, by asking the EC to “do all it can to consult others in its work”, the Supreme Court has opened a can of worms. Who are those “others”? Already, there is no consensus among the political parties on how to solve problems of this sort. The Inter-party Advisory Committee (IPAC) can’t solve any problem of this sort either. Neither can identifiable civil society groups, clearly because almost all of them have become politically inclined and lost credibility when it comes to non-partisan handling of issues that are politically interested. Why has the Supreme Court thrown the door so open to cause more confusion?
By declaring that “the register in its current form, is not reasonably credible”, the Supreme Court is pandering to the whims and caprices of those putting needless pressure on the EC. What is its definition for and justification of a “reasonably credible” voters register?
The EC has already given indications that it will take appropriate steps to “clean up” the voters register. What the Supreme Court is adding to its workload will be useful only if it fits into the EC’s own agenda and will be done expeditiously. Otherwise, I foresee danger.
I think that the Supreme Court’s verdict is itself problematic and won’t solve any problem. Granted that time is of the essence, the EC is needlessly being put on the spot to be blamed if major problems crop up at Election 2016. Is that what we want?
I am also more than concerned about the ultimatum: to clean up the voters register IMMEDIATELY. Why so, when the EC is already occupied with another major national exercise of limited registration? Has the Supreme Court considered constraints regarding time, resources, and money involved in such a clean-up exercise?
It is one thing giving such an ultimatum and another implementing it within the context of availability of resources. We know that the EC has already complained of not being given adequate funds for its tasks. Parliament failed to meet its request, if our recollection is right. So, how is it going to do what the Supreme Court is imposing on it?
What happens if the EC fails to do what the Supreme Court has instructed it to do? No reasonably credible voters register, so no general elections or a rejection of the outcome of the elections? More problems loom, I daresay.
I shall return…
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