Representatives of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) were at their intellectual best. Their presentation was well researched, very comprehensive and convincing. But theirs was a classic illustration of what our sages of old have said: “The first man to lodge a complaint at the chief’s palace is always right until the man he is accusing arrives to tell his side of the story.”
The debate was generally on whether or not we needed a new voters register for the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections. The NPP wanted (and may still be dreaming about) a new register. They claim the current voters register is bloated with foreigners and minors and other forms of irregularities. Their main opponents, the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC), are against that idea. The NDC, like some other political parties and civil society groups, wants the existing register cleaned instead of a replacement. The third school of thought, led by the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), wants a new voters register, but it should be based on the National Identification system.
The pressure group, Let My Vote Count Alliance (LMVCA), has championed the cause for a new register. The LMVCA is a pro-NPP group and has widely consulted and lobbied former presidents, notable personalities and groups in the country on this idea. They want their votes to count. They were there before the 2012 elections. I wonder where they were when the NPP sought to annul votes in the 2012 election petition. The NPP wanted very valid votes annulled because of the carelessness or genuine mistakes of some polling officers. That is just by the way. We are on the voters register, aren’t we?
The LMVCA petitioned the Electoral Commission (EC) after a protest that turned violent. The EC called for proposals from the political parties. The EC did not end there. The Commission decided to hold a public forum and therefore appointed a group of five respected citizens and experts in that field to moderate the forum. The NPP had concerns with some of the panel members. They claimed these persons were so close to the NDC or that they were prejudiced against the NPP’s idea of a new voters register. Notwithstanding their misgivings, the NPP decided to take part in the two-day debate. Their lead presenter was the party’s former national chairman, Peter Mac Manu. His presentation left many listeners, including me, convinced that the NPP had a good case.
But even before the NDC arrived, the questions from some of the panel members cast a lot of doubt on the credibility of some of the NPP’s claims and the feasibility of the party’s demand. My biggest disappointment was when Mr. Mac Manu was asked whether the NPP had a solution to the problems they had enumerated. He said fixing the problem was not the NPP’s duty. He sounded unconvincing.
A number of brilliant submissions were also made, particularly the one from the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG). Ben Ephson’s presentation was also very crisp and enlightening. But the one everyone awaited, apart from the NPP’s, was the NDC’s presentation. The General Secretary of the NDC, Johnson Asiedu Nketia, was there to deliver his party’s position. Asiedu Nketia’s presentation was the most interesting of all the presentations. Never mind it had very little substance. He, however, managed to mock the NPP’s position and cast more doubts on their claims in his usual witty way.
There were many other so-called political parties whose presence could be described as a waste of precious time. It was clear some of them did not know what they were saying. Their contributions were best suited for entertainment columns and segments of news bulletins. I am talking about the likes of Akua Donkor and the man who did everything possible to prove that he understood a line or two of French. The EC should leave them out of any serious political discourse in the future. Their inclusion was an insult to the likes of the NPP who had taken time to research and made intellectually stimulating presentations. A certain criteria could be used to preclude so-called political parties that exist only on paper. The EC may learn from the Institute of Economic Affairs.
The most compelling, informative and convincing presentation, however, came from the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Mrs. Charlotte Osei. In fact, any honest NPP member would admit that Mrs. Charlotte Osei gave them enough reason to discard their position. Apart from creating adequate flaws in the NPP’s claims, the EC boss’ presentation made it clear to even the dumbest observer that getting a new and credible voters register before the 2016 elections would be impossible. We could end up with a worse register than the current one if any such attempt was made. The reason is simple:
In previous registration exercises, the old voters identity cards were used as the main sources of identification to enable voters to register. If that one is flawed and cannot be relied on as the NPP is claiming, then on what should we rely on to get a new register? The National Identification Cards? That won’t work before the next election. The National Identification Authority (NIA) started the process to get National Identification Cards for Ghanaians in 2008. In 2015, they still have no clue when the process will end. In fact the process has stalled and they want to start it all over again. How can we rely on the NIA to start and end that process next year before the process of registering new voters to enable us to vote in November or December 2016?
Apart from those who landed from Pluto last night every Ghanaian should by now know the impossibility here. We are unable to solve the most basic of our problems, thanks to lack of leadership. We have challenges printing passports. It is easier to acquire a US visa than get a birth certificate. For one-and-a-half years now, we have not been able to print drivers’ license. There is a backlog of over 200,000 licenses, including mine, that are yet to be printed.
Perhaps when our President returns from India with his Indian traditional wear, it will carry with it some leadership lessons from Prime Minister Narendi Modi on how to solve our basic challenges. It is shameful how we have allowed corruption and greed to rob us of our ability to behave like normal human beings and provide for our basic needs. How do the Americans, Brits and Germans perceive us when we are struggling to get a voters register in this day and age? How would the Indians with a voter population of about 850 million think of us when we are struggling to register a voter population of 14 million?
For this and other shameful reasons, relying on a new voters register for the 2016 elections may lead to the postponement of the polls. At best, the NPP, the other political parties and the Electoral Commission should come together and find ways of cleaning the current voters register.
The Committee that presided over the forum is yet to present its report to the EC. But the outcome is a foregone conclusion. At the end of the forum, it was clear that a new voters register is out of the question.
The unfortunate and most disturbing issue, however, is that instead of the NPP admitting that they put up a spirited fight and lost, they are trying to find ways to discredit the expected outcome. The reaction of O.B. Amoah and some notable personalities after the forum sought to suggest that the EC had taken sides. Shortly after the EC Chair’s presentation, the National Youth Organiser of the NPP, Sammi Awuku, took to his Facebook page to reiterate the NPPs give-us-new-register-or-expect-violence-in-2016 mantra. This is what he wrote:
“By her [Charlotte Osei’s] posture and utterances, the EC boss is setting the stage to deny the youth and the people of Ghana a new and credible voters register for the 2016 elections. We will not sit down for our future to be toyed with. The cost of a new credible voters register is cheaper than the cost of violence. Guess its time for the Youth to Arise! We cannot afford to fail the masses in 2016. Youth Revolution imminent.”
On Joy FM’s Ghana Connect programme on Friday evening, where both Sammi Awuku and I were panelists, I brought up the post and said it was unfortunate on his part to have written that. His defence was that he had been talking about a revolution for a long time and he was not necessarily inciting the youth to a violent revolution. When he was reminded of the “violence” in his post, his response was that the NPP had been saying that all along.
Indeed, the NPP had been saying that. And it is irresponsible and condemnable. The NPP needs to wake up and confront the reality. They need to be told the truth. They cannot be working hard to lose the 2016 elections and at the same time trying to discredit the process.
I will be the first to admit that Mahama’s administration is the worst in the Fourth Republic. The economy has virtually been handed over to the IMF to manage because the so-called homegrown policies have not worked. The ridiculous trial and error policies from the Bank of Ghana have not helped the cedi. Rising unemployment is now normal. Thanks to corruption, the youth employment programme the NDC inherited from the NPP is at the intensive care unit. The power crises have only been solved with promises. Many businesses have folded up as a result of the power crises. Companies have laid off workers. Government has frozen public sector employment and school leavers cannot start their own businesses because the atmosphere has been polluted. The only sector that is thriving very well under this administration is the corruption sector.
We are living in a survival-of-the-fittest Ghana and the opposition NPP could have taken advantage of this to present itself as a credible alternative. But the party seems more interested in undoing one another than winning power. I was in the junior high school when the NPP first won power in Ghana. I didn’t know much about the electoral system then, but I know for sure that the voters’ register we have now is more credible than the one we used in the 2000 elections. The electoral process is more transparent now. Thanks to the plurality of the media, it is more difficult for vote rigging now than before. So what is the NPP afraid of?
The NPP should stop preaching violence. Let’s do politics like civilized people. Peter Mac Manu was quick to mention Cote d’Ivoire when he talked about violent outcomes of the 2016 elections should we proceed with a flawed register in his presentation. He could have mentioned better examples, countries that had serious issues but resolved them without killing and destroying the nation. The NPP’s headquarters has now become the citadel of lawlessness. It is a place where machete-wielding youth congregate in broad daylight. It is the venue where blows are traded before television cameras. It is a place where vehicles are smashed or burnt. The party’s general secretary had his vehicle smashed last week. A similar violence resulted in the killing of the party’s Upper East Regional Chairman this year. This is a party without a revolutionary background. What has changed? Why is intra-party politics becoming an all-die-be-die affair?
If you train your dog to bite any stranger that enters your house, you must not forget that your relatives will pay you a visit and your intended targets may end up being your relatives. The war songs must cease. Cool heads and civility must prevail.
There is still enough time for the NPP to make amends before the 2016 elections. As it stands now, the Ghanaian voter may be right in choosing an incompetent government over a disorganised and violent opposition.
The promising devil we know is better than the uninspiring angel we do not know.