By Asare Otchere-Darko
Are NPP delegates meant to be free agents or delegates with pledged votes? On August 31, 2014, some 828 delegates of the Special Electoral College of Ghana’s largest opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), will gather in 10 regional polling centres to vote. Their job is to shortlist to five the seven candidates vying to be the party’s presidential candidate for the 2016 election. Each delegate is entitled to one vote.
48 days after, on October 18, a larger electoral college of more than 140,000 people, including 130,010 polling station executives, will line up at 275 centres nationwide to elect the 2016 flagbearer from the shortlist. This translates into one in every 99 people on Ghana’s existing voters’ register.
Among the Special Electoral College are the party’s 123 Members of Parliament, 160 regional executives and 275 constituency chairpersons. Combined, these three groups represent a critical mass, 67.4% of the votes at the Special Electoral College.
While the obvious duty of election candidates and their campaign teams is to canvass for votes and for voters to give them their support in the hope that it translates into real ballots on polling day, in the NPP, this process is classified in certain quarters as “unfair” and a breach of the ‘rules of the game’. They have a point.
The fundamental question must be this: why make a rule, which goes against the spirit and purpose of the game,a part of the rules of the game at all?
The apparent breach has been occasioned by the unfamiliar sweeping burst and surge of NPP delegates openly pledging their individual and/or group support to one particular candidate to the apparent exclusion of all the others.
STRENGTH OF UNITY
Others are even saying that the phenomenon threatens the unity of the party. I find this thinking most odd. What would have, perhaps, threatened the unity of the party would have been a contest of open declarations, where delegates are vividly divided in support of two or more candidates. But, where the open show of support from the ground is all aimed, predominantly, at one candidate should be seen as a clear indication of the strength of unity within the NPP. It speaks of a party that is united behind what it wants and who it wants.
It may not be fair to the other contenders but the party cannot be blamed for either the dogged ambition of the others or for making its mind on who it wants to lead it. On the contrary, I believe, what is unfair is any rule that seeks to, effectively, gag the party from being honest to the competitors in this internal contest.
Campaigning is expensive. Delegates are often accused of being dishonest or deceptively nice to candidates with no chance of winning. This new phenomenon of open declaration is one that is inspired by extraordinary circumstances: the unprecedented support one candidate enjoys.
This, after all, is a candidate who received nearly 80% support from delegates the last time he contested, in 2010. It was also the highest for any candidate in any internal democratic contest in Ghana’s history. This is a candidate whose popularity appears to have even grown larger after the 2012 general elections and matters arising.
What is unfair is the ostrich posture of those who think fairness is pretending there is competition when there is none. The truth is, in the recent rounds of elections, the NPP saw a situation where all those who contested and won party office positions were compelled by the sentiments on the ground to add to their campaign message an assurance to delegates that they would support the candidacy of a particular person for the flagbearership if elected.
Indeed, Chairman Paul Afoko had a famous campaign line: “Vote for me and I promise I will make the candidate you want, Akufo-Addo, president. We wouldn’t have ended up in court if I were Chairman in 2012. I will deliver victory in 2016!”
The NPP constitution allows the party the flexibility to adapt guidelines to suit a particular flagbearership race. For the 2014 presidential primaries, the party’s National Council decided to stick, by and large, to the 2010 guidelines. Note: the part of the guidelines in issue was not the creation of the current executives. They were there for the 2010 Congress.
The paragraph of contention, the offending rule, reads: “Party Officers at all levels: National, Regional, Constituency, Electoral Area, Polling Station, Overseas (International) Branch, as well as Members of Parliament, shall refrain from openly declaring support of any branch, constituency, or organ for any individual candidate or campaigning for them. No National, Regional, Constituency, Electoral Area, Polling Station, or Overseas Branch Officer shall issue a press statement in support of any candidate.”
What does this mean? Under the circumstances, it means very little more than an avoidable confusion of an unenforceable rule. The drafters of the rule could not have been aware of the mood of the party today when they proceeded to introduce it years ago. It seemed quite sensible then in anticipation of a highly competitive environment.
However, the rule now appears to be a victim of circumstances, rendered absurd by the sheer popularity of one candidate.To try to enforce it now is to, effectively, tag that popular mood of the party for one candidate as ‘indiscipline’.
It is a rule made with good intentions but has turned out this time to be in error and inherently offensive to the NPP’s own constitution and the whole concept of free and democratic contest.
Is it right for party officers or MPs to be free to campaign in their individual capacities for candidates but cannot make any open declaration for the group that they may be delegated to represent?
There is also a more fundamental problem with the rule in how it appears to define a delegate. It impliedly promotes a deleterious impression that delegates are free agents and do not represent a group. Yet, the whole concept of the Special Electoral College is to sample the voting intentions of the larger group before the National Congress proper. It was not intended to create a parallel popularity test structure.
In 2009, the NPP amended its constitution to expand all its electoral colleges. This was to allow greater grassroots ownership and reduce the influence of money to induce delegates and consequent conflicts and apathy at the grassroots level. Going by the old constitution, only about 3,000 delegates would be voting on October 18 this year and not the over 140,000 we are now looking at.
Also, the party did not want to revisit the situation where 17 people contested in the 2007 National Congress, so it introduced this concept of Special Electoral College where there are more than five people vetted to contest.
Speaking to party officers who are not qualified to be delegates on August 31 but for October 18, I found out that, by and large,they have been working together, in a rich consultative atmosphere, with their MPs and chairpersons (Aug 31 delegates) to agree on their constituency’s choice of candidate. This initiative must be rather commended because, for instance, it reduces significantly the potential for candidates to unduly influence the smaller number of Special Electoral College delegates. This, of course, is not to suggest that those delegates can be bought.
Apart from the 16 external branches (which are allowed 12 delegates each) all party officers who are in the groups that the guidelines seek to restrain are certainly delegates of the larger electoral college for the October 18 National Congress. Also, their MPs and constituency chairpersons, who are leading the ongoing endorsements for one candidate,will all vote on August 31 as delegates.
Therefore, the rule that says a delegate, after consulting his or her constituents, cannot declare on behalf of the group appears most incongruous. The NPP constitution does not give any special definition to who a delegate is, so one would have expected the ordinary meaning to suffice. To delegate is to assign a task to someone else or to give authority to someone else. The legal definition of ‘delegate’ is transfer of authority from one to another.
Further, the dictionary defines ‘electoral college’ as an “electing body: a select body of people who elect somebody to an office on behalf of a larger group.” In the NPP context, the delegates of the Special Electoral College to be held at the end of August should have no option but to act on behalf of the larger NPP group.
The only point in the August 31 ballot is simply to cut down the number of candidates below ‘vulgar’ level. It should not be left to be exploited as an avenue for a candidate, who would otherwise not be popular, to use money to ‘buy’ his way through. The constituencies do not want that and they have devised a way to deal with that. That way is to make sure that those who vote on their behalf do so, indeed, on their behalf. Some of us are even of the view that the party ought to have given just one week at the end of the vetting process for the Special Electoral College to vote, leaving a longer time for those who make it to the shortlist to campaign. The current longer period for campaigning defeats the mischief the framers of that provision sought to cure.
Essentially, what we see NPP delegates doing today is to merely operate as delegates. The rule that says you can campaign but not declare for the group you represent is needless for this contest and contrary to the party’s, and any democratic principles.
Again, according to the NPP guidelines, even though, as an MP or party officer, you are free to publicly declare support for or campaign for any candidate, you cannot show that support in a press statement. The guideline does not define what a press statement is, so we have to settle for the common meaning. A press statement is a written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something ostensibly newsworthy. It is also known as a press release, news release, media release or video release.
So, in effect, the NPP guidelines are saying, a party officer or MP is free to appear on live radio or television to openly campaign for a candidate but would offend the rules by reproducing those same words in a press statement. Odd!
When calls from the ground are clear and in harmony for a particular candidate, see that as a blessing and build on that unity of purpose for power in 2016. Do not fight it. Save your pesewas for the main contest ahead and the party will remember you eternally. The contest must come on, if it may, but the realities must also not be dismissed.
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