The role of the whip in parliament is simple: it particularly includes ensuring each member of her party is present when a crucial debate and voting will take place; addressing party members concerns including those who may be aggrieved or think otherwise in respect of an issue to be voted on as well as informing the party leadership on any development. The whip system has been a very important tool for ensuring discipline among party members in the supreme interest of the party.
However, just like any behaviour-controlling system, the whip system has had limits since its evolution around the 18th century in the British parliament. One of the limits on the system, and, effectively, on the whip herself is not to operate outside of the rules, laws and the constitution. The whip must, as a matter of constitutional duty, always operate within the rules.
This is why in most advanced democracies members of parliament sometimes vote against their party’s wishes on crucial issues which are perfectly acceptable and within the rules. When a member travels outside the wishes of the party on an issue, she is faced with sanctions including risking her membership of the party (and, this is when usually the three-line whip is deployed in extremely critical and controversial issues).
Ghana’s 8th Parliament was inaugurated on the dawn of 7th January 2021. The Parliament first elected the Speaker followed by the swearing-in of the Members and the election of the deputy Speakers. The election of the Speaker was hotly contested amid rancor and steadfastness.
Article 104 (4) of Ghana’s Constitution and Standing Order 9 (1) of Ghana’s Parliament provides for election of this nature to be by a secret ballot. In other words, no member must see who the colleague member voted for as her choice of Speaker. It’s thus, a constitutional duty on all members. It will therefore be unconstitutional to reveal to colleague members how or who one voted for.
In an ex post facto rationalization, the Member of Parliament for Tema West, Carlos Ahenkorah, who snatched the ballot papers while officers of parliament were in the process of counting to determine who won the speakership contest mentioned that, among others, the NDC in Parliament prevented the NPP from using the whip system. This clearly showed the MP’s weak understanding and unlearned thinking about the whip system generally.
In a secret ballot process, the whip’s job ends at persuading her member(s) to vote in a particular direction on a particular cause. The whip has no business flouting the Constitution under the guise of determining whether her members voted on the cause or not as directed by the party. However, she can come in with sanctions after the voting has ended and with reasonable satisfaction that a member failed to vote based on the party’s directive. In essence, a whip has no business flouting the constitution under the guise of whipping.
Another unfortunate scene was the invasion of the Parliament of Ghana by the security. Many were scandalized to see Ghana’s fully armed military and police invade the Parliament of Ghana under the guise of maintaining law and order in the chamber. What this simply means is that Ghana’s security, both the military and police violated the Parliament of Ghana by their physical presence so as to aid in the violation of Ghana’s Constitution – voting without respect to secret ballots as injuncted by the Constitution.
Indeed, in any proper democracy, the Member of Parliament for Asawase, Alhaji Mohammed Mubarak Muntaka, the Chief Whip for the NDC in Parliament, the Haruna Iddrisu-led leadership and the entire NDC Members of Parliament would have been given a democracy award or however you may want to call it for standing by Ghana’s Constitution and insisting that the Constitution be adhered to even at the peril of their lives. They indeed saved and rescued Ghana’s democracy; and from what would have been Ghana’s day of shame.
BA, LLB, MA, LLM, MA.