What Ghanaians can learn from the Election Petition Case

Sun, 1 Sep 2013 Source: Jajah, Mahmoud

Ghanaians all over the world heaved a huge sigh of relief when the Supreme Court of Ghana presided over by Justice William Atuguba slammed the gavel on the eight-month long presidential election petition case. In fact, the case concluded suddenly that majority of Ghanaians could not even believe that it can end in that fashion.

The Supreme Court of Ghana dismissed all the six issues as set out in the address of the counsel for the petitioners. On the issues of duplicate serial numbers of pink sheets, duplicate polling station codes and numbers, and unknown polling stations, the court unanimously dismissed all the claims. The court voted by a majority of 6-3 to dismiss the claim of voting without going through biometric verification process. The split decisions of 5-4 on both the issues of over voting and non-signing of the pink sheets by the Presiding Officers respectively were in my view so close because of the constitutional and legal position of our laws on those issues.

To all intents and purposes, one cannot entirely dismiss the case of the petitioners as frivolous and useless. However, one will not be wrong to say that we shouldn’t have been here at all in the first place. The three issues (i.e. voting without biometric verification; over-voting; and non-signing of pink sheets by presiding officers) that the respected and learned judges delivered a split decision on, where issues that we could have resolved without necessarily going through this eight-month of expensive legal arguments. For instance, those issues could have been resolved at the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) level where all the political parties are represented.

Nevertheless we should take note that the judgment as delivered by the Supreme Court does not in any way suggest that we can vote without going through biometric verification process, or over-voting is acceptable, or even non-signing of the pink sheets by presiding officers is not illegal. That is not what the judgment of the court means. But unfortunately that is how most of the people especially those from the “losing” side decide to interpret the judgment. What the judgment on the split decisions means is that although these were “violations, malpractices and irregularities” of the law, rules and regulations governing our electoral processes, fundamentally though, these “violations, malpractices and irregularities” were not substantially and significant enough to have any material effect on the results as declared by the chairman of the Electoral Commission. In other words, if these “violations, malpractices and irregularities” were to have any material effect on the results of the election results as declared, the Supreme Court would have ruled in favour of the petitioners. And it is important we make and appreciate this point. Nevertheless, we have to wait for the full judgment to understand some of the reasoning behind these decisions.

Majority of Ghanaians disagree strongly with the petition, not because the petitioners do not have the constitutional right to challenge the presidential election results. Majority of Ghanaians were against the petition because they see the December 2012 elections as the most successfully and transparently run elections ever in the history of the country. And this is largely so because it was the first time we didn’t record multiple voting, vote padding, or disappearance of ballot boxes. Even the petitioners recognized the fact that no voter voted who was not a qualified voter, and there was no fraud or conspiracy to rig the election in favour of the President. For me these are very significant recognitions that made the case of the petitioners’ very weak. Ghanaians must appreciate the fact that no elections anywhere on the face of the earth can be run perfectly without any irregularities and/or malpractices, especially when technologies are used for the first time on a large scale. We should all work collectively to minimize the irregularities and malpractices through the electoral systems that we have. Just like in the politics of football, the law courts should be the last resort for politicians to resort to in resolving misunderstandings when it comes to election issues. We should strengthen the Electoral Commission and the IPAC so that they can serve as better. The worse thing we can inflict on ourselves is to lose confidence in the EC and the IPAC. We have come far, and we still have a very long way to travel. Let us do it for mother Ghana!

Mahmoud Jajah is the Executive Secretary of the Research and Advocacy Platform (RAP) and also a law student at MountCrest University College in Accra. He can be contacted through mails@mahmoudjajah.com

Columnist: Jajah, Mahmoud