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What are electoral reforms to the NPP? (Part I)

Fri, 20 Sep 2013 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The New Patriotic Party (NPP) leaders have taken their agitations a step further by writing to the Council of State to consider “the concerns of the various political parties when advising the president on who to appoint as Chairman and Commissioners of the Electoral Commission (EC)”.

The letter, signed by Chairman Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey and copied to the Council as well as the President Mahama,said: “Ghana would be helped if the Council were to formalise and institutionalise a process to act upon the advice of, amongst others, IPAC when advising H.E. the President on who should serve on the E.C”.

Some contents of the letter speak to the facts on the ground while others don’t. It is factual that the 1992 constitution empowers the President, acting on the advice of the Council of State, to appoint the Chairman, Deputy Chairmen and members of the Electoral Commission.

It is also factual that in the past these powers have been exercised without any consultation with the political parties. But this aspect is inadmissible because the Constitution doesn’t enjoin the President so to do. The NPP’s twisting of the issue at this juncture is politically motivated and won’t fly.

So also is their claim that any decision and action by the Council of State “to formalise and institutionalise a process (for the President) to act upon the advice of amongst others, IPAC, when advising H.E. the President on who should serve on the E.C.” would not need an amendment to the constitution.

By seeking to clip the wings of the President through this adroit if not uncanny means, aren’t these NPP people re-defining the trajectory? Why won’t it need a constitutional amendment if it has to be binding on the President or the Council of State to involve the IPAC in the efforts?

Another aspect of the letter is contentious: “This decision and action would … be very much in line with the spirit of article 144(3) on the appointment of Appeal and High Court Judges on the advice of the Judicial Council, who are those most knowledgeable about their colleagues, as the political parties may be presumed to be knowledgeable on political players”.

Have these NPP people so much confidence and trust in the judges so appointed? At least, the air is still thick with their insults and vain threats against judges whom they perceive as not in their good books. Any echoes here?

Now, let’s tear apart issues to know why the NPP’s letter is worse than self-serving; it is an act in further desperation that cannot stand the test of our contemporary Ghanaian political situation.

The President is mandated to appoint persons to various institutions of state, including the Council of State. He appoints a third of members of the Council of State and the rest elected to represent the 10 regions. Who does the President consult in making those appointments to the Council of State (or even the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies)?

The President knows how to do things and should be left alone without necessarily being invaded by bitter political rivals!!

Obetsebi-Lamptey’s desire that input be sought from IPAC is not necessarily harmful; but it has its own negative and distasteful quirks. Will these political parties ever agree on a common candidate to recommend to the President for appointment as the EC Chair?

Just take, for instance, the initial stages of the NPP petition hearing when the Supreme Court asked the petitioners and respondents to confer and agree on common aspects of the petition to be heard. What happened? The Court had to take it upon itself to determine the angle from which to hear the petition because no compromise could be reached. It is only nonsensical for anybody to presume/assume/think that bitter political opponents will ever settle on a common person to chair the EC.

That is why the framers of the constitution gave the President that prerogative, which he exercises in consultation with the Council of State.

The IPAC is not a constitutionally mandated or required electoral body; it was established on the initiative of the EC itself and supported by the various political parties to serve purposely as a consultative forum. It has been an instrument for hob-nobbing on critical political issues and sometimes consulted by the EC on procedural matters concerning the elections.

As can be seen from the constitutional instrument 75 and any other that cropped up during the NPP’s petition hearing, the IPAC doesn’t have any clout to drastically influence the electoral process. It is the EC that does because everything about elections in Ghana falls within its constitutionally defined and mandated purview. Thus, the IPAC is only an instrument for bridge-building to bring all the political parties on board as far as discussions concerning matters of mutual interest to them are concerned.

So, elevating it to the status that Obetsebi-Lamptey and the NPP have suggested and are advocating through letters to the Council of State, former Presidents Rawlings and Kufuor, civil society organizations, and others is a waste of time. The IPAC cannot be entrusted with responsibilities that it doesn’t have the recognition for. What the country will lose if the IPAC is scrapped is minimal because it will only create a vacuum for the political parties. They will not have a forum to interact in, which means that petty differences will not be discussed with the EC as the IPAC has been used for all this while.

The IPAC is the EC’s creation and cannot be uplifted above its nominal status as such. It can’t be endowed with qualities and given powers that it shouldn’t have. It can’t even exercise any power so vested in it because it has no foundation in the constitution.

So, by asking for it to be so ordained, isn’t Obetsebi-Lamptey going overboard? We recall that in their petition against Election 2012, the NPP’s Akufo-Addo and co-petitioners pinpointed Presiding Officers as personalities whose (mis)conduct largely influenced the records in the pink sheets. Thus, so much emphasis was placed on the role of the Presiding Officers as to suggest their importance, even more than that of the Returning Officer (Chairman of the EC).

We were given to know that the Presiding Officers’ failure to sign pink sheets or the transpositional errors that they committed was an infraction of the law and the constitution, which warranted the petitioners’ claim that irregularities, malpractices, and violations occurred at the elections. That being the case, the basis exists for us to conclude that the main focus in any electoral reform should be on them.

But in their letter, the NPP leaders left out the Presiding Officers’ status and role as if they hadn’t seen anything therein to be reformed. Instead, they suggested that the EC Chair should be appointed after consultations between the President, Council of State, IPAC, and others, which is constitutionally lame. The constitution empowers the President to appoint the EC Chair, Deputies and other members of the Commission, which has been done over the years without any rumpus until the NPP lost Election 2012 and began pointing accusing fingers at these hardworking officials instead of themselves for failing to mobilize votes from the electorate for Akufo-Addo.

The NPP’s defeat had more to do with the ineffective/ineffectual electioneering campaign or particular attributes of the candidate that repelled the electorate. It was not caused by any collusion between Dr. Afari Gyan or his Deputy (Sule) to systematically rig the elections in favour of President Mahama. Whatever happened was confirmed by the Supreme Court to put them to shame.

On that score, their agitations for the resignation of Dr. Afari Gyan are not only mischievous and treacherous but they will end up in smoke just as their protests against the outcome of Election 2012 did. The cause of their defeat lies in their own wombs, where it is taking root to emerge again at Election 2016 unless the party’s leaders clean their stables to give a better account of their party and its candidates. That is the task to perform now, instead of biting off more than they can chew.

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.