Young positivist writes: COVID-19 and Ghana’s election 2020

COVID 19   Coronavirus Ghana's coronavirus case count has skyrocketed

Tue, 16 Jun 2020 Source: Sampson Boamah

At the beginning of 2020, things seemed promising. Many people had magnificent goals in mind to actualize. To them, the year 2020 was the beginning of a new decade and so they had high hopes for it. But little did the world know that a disease that originated from a small geographical area would escalate to this level.

Ghana has not been spared by this deadly invisible foe as the country moves towards its 8th electoral process under the fourth republic. In this piece, I discuss the deadly novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and election 2020 and the situation’s impact on the Ghanaian voter.

The world has not known much peace since the outbreak of this virus, and it has given world leaders restless nights and deep incubus. As you may be aware, this virus which first broke out in Wuhan, a province in China has now become a pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) led by its Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on 11th March 2020 as the number of confirmed cases had increased at an alarming rate outside the territory of Wuhan, China.

Interestingly, there has been some blame game among some world leaders about the outbreak of this disease. Some have pointed fingers at China for being too negligent with the control of the virus. Others have also blamed the World Health Organization (WHO) for its tardy approach in dealing with this outbreak. This led to the United States’ government’s withdrawal of its support to the WHO.

Many have criticized the US government for taking such a callous decision. I, however, think they may have some genuine reasons. Mr. Donald Trump, the US president blamed the organization for allowing itself to be used as a puppet by China. In as much as I concede to the complaints above, I strongly believe that the world, in general, is to be blamed for sitting aloof without putting any prudent measures in place when it all began.

The world cannot continue with this sort of blame as the enemy at hand is invisible. All we need to do as a people is to learn from the past and prepare for the future by bringing all our arsenals together to combat this malevolent virus.

Currently, figures indicate that the disease has mushroomed to over two hundred countries with over seven million confirmed cases reported, and over four hundred thousand deaths recorded and still counting. The United States of America leads with the highest number of confirmed cases as well as the highest number of COVID-19 deaths that is, with over two million cases and over a hundred thousand dead.

One cannot talk about COVID-19 and leave its ruinous economic impact on the world. The New York Times reports that “The Labor Department said that the economy (USA economy) shed more than 20.5 million jobs in April, sending the unemployment rate to 14.7 percent- devastation unseen since the Great Depression."

The Guardian in late May 2020 reported that “More than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment over the last 10 weeks- a number of jobless the US has not seen since the Great Depression” Can you imagine? If the world's most vibrant, robust, and resilient economy has suffered this turmoil then your conjecture is as right as mine concerning developing countries, most especially in Africa.

As I mentioned earlier, Ghana has not been freed from the woes of this enemy as the virus has shattered many plans of the people and the government. As a measure to contain the menace, the government of Ghana put in place some to curtail the spread and the contraction of the virus.

Some parts of the country underwent a partial lockdown for three weeks which enabled the health officials to do more testing. There were and are still some restrictions on the social gathering but with some slight ease this time around. The government has also closed its borders being it air, land, or sea. These measures are put in place to make sure people do not contract the virus.

Like the USA, Ghana has also been hit economically and this has led the government to run to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for relief of a billion-dollar loan which they claim is without conditionalities.

Many folks have lost their jobs as the future looks tentative for others. Some have been laid off their jobs because their services are not needed and those traders who earn a little from the gathering of large crowds have also suffered immensely. This has brought great trepidation and the certainty of the future looks blurred.

Ghana’s democracy has been touted as one of the best in Africa and even the world at large. At least for the first time in the country’s history, Ghana’s democracy has spanned more than 2 decades without any instability.

Election 2020 will be the 8th election since Ghana returned to constitutional rule in 1992. In this fourth republic, we have had 3 transitions from one political party to another. In 2001, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) handed the reins of administration over to the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

In 2009, the NPP also handed over power to the NDC and in 2017 the NDC also did the same. With these various transitions, it will not be farfetched for one to suggest that Ghana’s democracy is consolidated, even though this may be arguable.

The NPP has slated 20th June 2020 for its parliamentary election and has confirmed the president, Nana Akufo-Addo as the party’s flagbearer, unopposed. Their primaries which were supposed to take place in April to elect their flagbearer and their parliamentary candidates did not take place due to the restrictions that the country was placed under in government’s effort to control and minimize the spread of COVID-19.

The NDC on the other hand, have elected their parliamentary candidates and their flagbearer, but the latter has still not named a running mate, We are less than 6 months to December 7 and I do not know if these parties are prepared, but I know for certain that the elections will take place.

On 7th December 2020, Ghanaian electorates will queue at their various polling stations to elect a new president and members of parliament who will steer the affairs of the country for the next four years. But how are we going to exercise our constitutional right amid the pandemic knowing clearly that the virus moves when people move? This is a question I have thought about for a while now.

It is a fact that preparation for an impending election does not start at the eleventh hour. Rightly put, an election is not an event but a process. In our case, is the Electoral Commission (EC) ready? Are the political parties also prepared? And what about the electorate, are they also ready?

I will now touch on the tussle between the NDC with some opposition parties and the EC.

The Electoral Commission wants to compile a new voters’ register because they claim the current one has some credibility issues. While they push for a fresh voters’ register, the NDC initially wanted the EC to reconsider its decision and use the current one for election 2020 so they can have ample time to prepare adequately for a new one towards election 2024.

The NDC took the matter to court seeking the court to stop the EC from compiling a new register. The Supreme Court on 11th June 2020 sat on the matter and asked the NDC to choose one argument which is; whether the court should stop the EC from compiling a new register or the EC should include the old register in the registration process between which the NDC chose the latter.

The Supreme Court has adjourned the case to 26th June 2020 for the final hearing. For now, we know that there will be new voter registration but we await the apex court’s ruling; whether the EC would have to include the old register as per the NDC wishes or not. We need to have a credible register which will ensure credible election results. Above all, we need to tread cautiously because we know the dangers of failed elections.

The opposition NDC has leveled a lot of allegations against the EC and the EC has repudiated those allegations on several occasions. This is not the first time that we have had this form of banter between the main opposition party and the Electoral Commission.

In a recent communique issued by the EC, the commission spells out the documents one can use in the registration process which is the use of the Ghana Card or Passport. Also, 2 people can guarantee for up to 10 persons to register.

The opposition NDC has raised concerns about these requirements. They say using only the Ghana Card or passport will go a long way to disenfranchise a lot of voters.

Meanwhile, the EC has set 30th June 2020 to kick-start the registration and end by the close of July 2020. The EC set out 2 days in piloting and at the end had nearly two thousand registered voters in the 16 regional capitals. How many people have their Ghana Cards now? How many people have a passport? What happens to those who have a driver’s license and the old voter’s card? And when will the National Identification Authority (NIA) finish with the compilation of the Ghana Card so that all citizens will have access to it?

This may delay the process and it might prevent many people from registering. To this effect, I believe there should be some rethinking and reconsideration.

How does the EC intend to register over 10 million eligible voters? I have seen the guidelines they have brought about concerning how they intend to go about the registration. The president in his 10th Covid-19 address to the nation said there should not be a gathering of more than 100 people. So let’s take for instance that, 200 people turn up at a registration center at a moment, will the registration officials tell the extra 100 to go home and return at a later time? Will electorates be able to adhere to all the protocols at the various centers? How do we control these long queues under this pandemic during the registration?

Will COVID-19 have any impact on Ghana’s election 2020? Looking at how people feel anxious about this virus, will electorates have the confidence to go out, register, and participate in the election? It’s about time the EC brought out some novel ways in which we can register and vote without much human contact. Because the questions remain; how many people will risk their lives to register? And how many electorates intend to risk their lives to vote in December if COVID-19 is still around?

The impact of COVID-19 will most likely be felt on Ghana's election 2020 in terms of the voter turnout but to prevent this heavily collapsing our electoral process, we can learn to adapt activities that are carried out online in other to prevent and minimize the spread of the virus.

Let us be circumspect about the way and manner in which we conduct ourselves in this year’s election. The EC should listen to others where and when necessary and the political parties should also give their maximum support to the commission when needed. We are in this together and the earlier we put in place prudent measures, the better, to sustain our democracy.

As a country, we have set the pace for other African countries to follow. Let us show Africa and the rest of the world once again that we can do it. I am optimistic that COVID-19 will be under control soon but until then, let us follow the preventive measures and protocols to have a successful election.

Columnist: Sampson Boamah
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