The first queen of England, Queen Elizabeth was regarded as too controversial for mainly three reasons; the fact that she was a woman had the people doubt her ability to rule, her refusal to wed was a threat to getting an heir to the throne and her ban of Catholicism. But incidentally, her marriage to England proved successful.
In Ghana, the new chairperson of the country’s Electoral Commission (EC), Mrs. Charlotte Kesson-Smith Osei has already stirred too many controversies in 16 months in office. From her appointment, to the rebranding of the commission’s logo, to the rejection of nomination forms of 13 presidential aspirants.
Her appointment in June 2015 as the first female to chair the Commission came under lots of attacks, with many questioning her ability to handle such “turbulent” filed –elections. She has been measured partly because of her predecessor’s arguably outstanding performance in conducting 6 elections under the fourth republic and secondly, she will be presiding over a keener election this year- a historic election that will test the phenomena of electorates changing political parties after every two terms in office.
The ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) has been in power for eight (8) years but President John Dramani Mahama has been president for one term succeeding late Mills who died almost a year to end of his first term. On the other hand an opposition leader, Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) who has been defeated twice and going for his third attempt.
Close to two decades after the commencement of transitions to democratic regimes and succession of electoral cycles, elections still remained subject to caution and prone to crisis in several new democracies.
However, the relationship between the EC and opposition parties has been even more tensed under Mrs Osei’s reign. There is a trust gap-often disagreements end up in court or results in the setting up of a panel to investigate such matters for instance the issue about bloated voters register.
This makes one wonder, if it is a progression controversy in an emerging democracy, or the changing nature of the Commission or purely a personality issue?
In social psychology, every human being passes through a stage of storm and stress as he or she grows, transiting from teenage to adolescent to adulthood.
After decades of military intrusions in Ghana’s democratic expedition, Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan built the EC under the fourth republic. He has been the only face of the EC until last year. Many referred to him as tough, committed and Intransigent.
In the latter part of his tenure, he preferred to ask people who have some election-related complaints to head to court, instead of allowing them the opportunity to first exhaust the options for jaw-jaw. Dr. Gyan’s period was concerned with setting up a credible commission, getting it to work and the mechanics of voting in an emerging democracy. It has a chequered history of protest with demand for transparent ballot boxes and ended with a full blown presidential election petition in 2012.
In 2016, Mrs Osei is leading a commission with a new mandate strong on party accountability. This has reflected in the rebranding and structuring of the commission. The chair of the EC has explained the initiatives are meant to result in an independent Commission. On the commission’s website is an audacious strategy plan (2016-2021) dubbed “Gearing for Greatness.
The EC also has a new slogan, “for the people”. Under the plan, the commission aspires to become a World Class, Trusted and Independent Commission. The commission expects the following results among others:
• Official results not overturned
• Parties fully comply with legislation overseen by the EC
• Safe, free , transparent and fair elections
It has also renewed to deliver election on schedule and on time.
The new chairperson has displayed this drive in many occasions. In December 2015, the commissioned announced that it will not register any political party without offices across the country. The Constitution stipulates that all political parties must have at least offices in two-thirds in all 216 districts in the country.
Again, the EC in a controversial move, insisted that it will only register candidates only after they have declared their assets with Auditor General, a move many legal experts including Ace Ankomah described as illegal.
Ghana’s Public Office Holders (declaration of assets and disqualification) Act – 1998 (act 550) mandates public office holders to submit to the Auditor general all assets and liabilities owed by them before taking office and at the end of his or her term of office.
The latest is the rejection of the nomination forms of thirteen (13) presidential aspirants because they failed to conform to the laws, rules and regulations governing the elections. The EC cited clerical errors, inability to secure required signatures of endorsement, one voter endorsing more than one presidential candidate among others.
Party accountability is commendable. Ravi Duggal, Program Officer at the International Budget Partnership in India in an article “Elections in India: Transparency, Accountability, and Corruption, “criticised the Election body in that country over its failure to enforce violation of election code of conduct.
The Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was able to pass off his calls for people to vote twice as a joke and simply apologized when questioned by the EC.
Similarly a hate speech against Muslims by a top leader in the BJP resulted in a ban from campaigning by the candidate in the locality concerned. But many have criticized the accountability campaign as nominal. Some have suggested the declaration as invalid the forms of the minority presidential candidates was merely an exercise to cut down on the number of aspirants. All things being equal, only four out of the original 17 will contest in the 2016 elections.
Another important area, the Commission could exert its power is political party funding. Article 7(3) of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) obligates signatory states to make good faith efforts to improve transparency in candidate and political party financing. The UN recommends appropriate sanction for non-compliance.
Again in India, reforms since 2003 have attempted to increase transparency in politics. The passage of the Right to Information law has compelled political parties to release their income and expenditure records, expanding information on political finance.
In Ghana, section 13 of the political parties Act, 200o mandates the parties to disclose their sources of funding to the commission. This is an often flouted provision by many parties including the big fishes.
The point is that the EC would have to done or goes deeper than these efforts although commendable to get parties to be accountable. The accountability era must come along with an equal footing by the Commission itself. There have been question as to whether the commission has the moral authority to demand accountability and transparency from the candidates and political parties when it has not showed such good faith.
The Commission in an attempt to rebrand has been accused of lack of transparency. Its new logo, came as a surprise to many Ghanaians-even worse- was the response by Mrs Osei; “We like it, we picked it, it makes us happy”.
The Commission strategy plan still remains on the website and boardroom. It has not been able to articulate with clarity its strategy to many Ghanaians despite its slogan “for the people”. On the other hand is a growing perception about the personality that the EC boss is courting too many needless controversies or perhaps a miscalculation about some of her utterances and posture.
The CEO of Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Ezra Chiloba, in 2015 described running an election to New African magazine as “akin to a military operation that requires detailed planning and thorough execution.” With less than two months to the elections, the new EC boss has the challenge to calm down the political waters-she needs a delicate balance of democratic yet devious skills to break her election virginity.
By Sammy Darko