The special voting exercise has taken off in the Bolgatanga Central Constituency with a chaotic challenge lodged by the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) over the involvement of security recruits in the activity.
The scene of the election was thrown into wild protests and open altercations among agents of the NPP, officials of the Electoral Commission (EC) and security personnel in the early hours of Thursday after the NPP disrupted the exercise, saying the recruits would not be allowed to take part in it.
The agents ‘barked’ loud orders at the recruits to leave the polling queue. Over 800 recruits, according to the NPP, were at the Upper East Regional House of Chiefs, the polling centre for the special voting in the constituency.
“We are not saying they should not vote. But they should go back to Talensi, the constituency where the police training school is located. That is where they reside for now. You are supposed to vote where you are resident. The CI (Constitutional Instrument) says that if you are not resident in a constituency, you cannot vote there. And this is Bolgatanga.
“We definitely will not allow you here. We asked for the voter register long, long ago. It was only last night they gave it to our parliamentary candidate,” the party’s Regional Organiser, Jerry Asamani, told journalists.
Agents of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), led by the Regional Head of Communications, Mohammed Akumbey Jnr, openly expressed similar sentiments. Whilst the representatives of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) looked upset at the disruption of the process, some NPP supporters, led by Lawyer Anthony Namoo, could be seen ordering all recruits to come out of the line.
“All of you with kolikoli (shaved heads) are recruits! We know you. Leave the queue. You won’t vote here,” a popular radio serial caller, Abu Fuseini, stressed fiercely as the agents went round inspecting with a daunting look of terror.
The casual inspection was still in force when senior police officers, who had warned that the action of the NPP could disenfranchise some eligible balloters, succumbed to pressure by withdrawing the recruits from the row. “So, if you drive these recruits away, how can you be sure that some of them are not going to vote for you?” one observer rhetorically asked Starr News in an interaction as the recruits, who had remained mute all along, bowed out of the swelling queue.
EC frustrates journalists
The chaos seen Thursday in the Upper East regional capital was expected.
Some influential members of the NPP had alleged in public that the ruling party was scheming to rig the 2016 polls right from the special voting day, using the recruits as a means to achieve that alleged end. And they had declared their intention to prevent it at all costs.
When Thursday’s chaos struck at the polling centre in Bolgatanga, the press faced perhaps the worst barriers ever met in the track of election coverage in the Upper East. The EC had failed to make accreditation cards available to the media in the region. And the same commission instructed the police to ‘whip’ journalists without accreditation tags away from the polling station.
Newsmen who tried to film proceedings saw warning fingers wagging strongly in front of their cameras as many times as they attempted to capture images at the scene. The frustrations peaked when the Regional Director of the commission, James Arthur-Yeboah, reportedly shut his ears to telephone calls from distressed media practitioners.
“You have refused to give accreditation and you will not allow us to cover without accreditation. Even when Vincent (a Daily Graphic correspondent) called him on phone just to find out the voter population of the region, he asked Vincent to come to the office for common information on voter population,” a reporter with the state-run Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) complained.
Journalists took footages sneakily and at risk in the wake of the chaos that put the exercise on hold for more than one hour in the NDC’s stronghold of Bolgatanga.