Sounds of foot soldiers stamping their feet
And vigilante groups fighting to eat
A political elite fearing defeat
Buckles in blissful defeat
And democracy is shamefully cloaked in deceit
Of vigilante groups still fighting to eat
And party foot soldiers still stamping their feet
Political parties are losing their grip
And governments are in for a drip
Poor democracy is in disarray
And Mother Ghana is kept at bay
Fighting and stamping feet in shackles
And democracy may win the battle
In 2015, at its national delegates’ conference, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) adopted a number of constitutional amendments. Chief among them was an amendment that provided for the use of the universal adult suffrage for the election of parliamentary and presidential candidates of the party. It was hailed then as a move designed to deepen democracy.
Of course, for a party that has “democratic” as its middle name, nothing could best symbolise the fact that the party has come of age, democratically.
According to the General Secretary of the party, Mr Asiedu Nketiah, the move was also designed to reward hardworking members of Parliament by allowing the general electorate, rather than party delegates, to elect them.
The universal adult suffrage principle was applied for the first time at the party’s primaries in 2015 with mixed results. The primaries threw up some upsets but also produced talented young candidates such as the Member for Bolga Central, Mr Isaac Adongo, who stood no chance if left to the delegates; Adongo would have been roasted on the stakes by the delegates.
The post-mortem analysis of the primaries is that the party lost the 2016 general election due largely to its adoption of the principle of universal adult suffrage.
Opponents have argued that the implementation was costly and time-consuming compared to the delegates system; it is alleged to have exhausted candidates physically and financially even before the general election.
This piece is my dissenting opinion. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no space in a write-up this short to catalogue the myriad reasons accounting for the NDC’s poor showing at the 2016 polls. And that is not even necessary at this stage. But suffice it to state here that if the primaries contributed in any significant way to the performance of the party at the general election, it was that the poor organisation of the primaries cast its shadow over the general election.
A few examples will suffice to drive this point home.
The first one is that the registration of party members was poorly managed; they loss control of registration material allowed self-interested individuals to carry materials around and register persons who, in their opinion, were sure to vote for them at the primaries.
Second, the period for campaigning was too long, allowing for drawn-out acrimonious exchanges among candidates and their supporters and for prolonged spending as candidates went on the trail. Third, party discipline slacked and those who violated the rules of the game went unpunished and others took the law into their own hands.
So, it is a fair statement to say that the implementation of the universal adult suffrage principle was fraught with problems. That said, these problems are not irremediable. But instead of fixing them, the National Executive Committee (NEC) has decided that the party goes back to the delegates system. I strongly believe that this is a mistake; going back for the delegate system may be likened to going back to swallow one’s vomit.
The move from the delegate system was designed to deepen democracy and correct the inherent deficiencies of that system, including the notorious sequestration and bribing of delegates. Not to add the fact that delegates were often taken to shrines to swear before voting. These are blatant violations of our electoral laws and are clearly anathema to democratic politics.
Yet, proponents of the delegates system tout them as practices that empower party foot soldiers because the primaries constitute their “cocoa season”. Another argument is that giving foot soldiers the power to elect the parliamentary and presidential candidates is politically empowering. In other words, foot soldiers become politically and financially empowered when the delegate system is used to conduct primaries.
However, we should not prefer delegate empowerment at the expense of the disempowerment of our ordinary membership. The revolt from the latter would be silent but revolutionary. The NDC was founded on the basis of popular participation in decision making.
The revolutionary slogan was: Power Belongs to the People! Jettisoning the universal adult suffrage principle is anti-people and the NEC must reconsider its stance. As the poem at the beginning of this piece says, democracy can only win the battle if we control (shackle) the extent to which party foot soldiers dictate the pace.
We must find alternative ways of economic and political empowerment for them and strive to deepen democracy in a meaningful manner.
The writer is a member of Parliament for Bolga East