Why our Electoral System has failed

grace

An Electoral Commission should ideally, exist only to facilitate the free expression, by the populace, of its political preferences in an election.

Facilitating the free expression of a people’s political will is not like invigilating an examination. Examinations are important, yes. But an election is far more crucial, in that it produces a government which takes control of a country’s resources and shares them out – in any way it wants.

If the country makes a mistake and chooses the wrong government, the results can be horrific. For the four years that a government stays in power before it can be legally changed, is all that’s needed to drastically reduce the standard of living of some members of the population, while enhancing that of the government’s cronies.

Therefore, when an Electoral Commission is set up, it has to make sure that the election result that climaxes its activities, reflects in no uncertain terms, the true choices of the people, as regards both individual candidates and political parties.

A good Electoral Commission ought to understand that its primary duty is to help the people express their political wishes without too much trouble. The Commission’s rules must be both absolutely clear and relatively idiot-proof. It should not be learned lawyers only who can interpret, correctly, the requirements that validate or invalidate a candidate’s ability to present himself to the electorate either to be chosen as its representative, or to be rejected by it.

In countries where real democracy is practised, one seldom hears anything whatsoever about “The Electoral Commission”. The “EC” does its job quietly behind the scenes, and wins the confidence of ALL political parties to such an extent that legal challenges to its decisions are noticeable by their absence. When did we last hear that a single parliamentary candidate in, say, the UK, had been prevented from running because he had made an administrative mistake, i.e. filling out the form required of a would-be candidate?

Of course, the literacy rate in the UK – both in the literal sense and in the political – is higher than that in Ghana. But that is why the Electoral Commission, in drafting legislation which it wants Parliament to enact into electoral laws, must pay attention to local conditions before proposing those laws or formulating subsidiary regulations that arise from the provisions of the main electoral legislation.

Political parties and their candidates in Ghana have only themselves to blame, of course if they have been so negligent that they cannot fulfil the provisions of the country’s electoral laws, however complex they may be. They ought to have consulted legal counsel where they were not sure of the meaning of any particular provisions of the electoral legislation.

At worst, they should have tackled the task of fulfilling the administrative aspects of fielding candidates in an election at such an early stage that they could have walked into the offices of the Electoral commission to – as it were – “rehearse” the registration of their would-be candidates.

Would the EC have co-operated with parties and people who tried to “rehearse” their registration of nominees? If it refused, it could be exposed for being uncooperative, couldn’t it? Because, as I have stated, its primary duty is to assist those in the political process who may legitimately need its assistance or advice. There are certain areas where the EC cannot help nominees, for sure – for instance, it would be unrealistic to expect the EC to check and detect whether a man called “Aseda” had nominated two different persons from two different parties!

But there are other areas where the EC can help would-be candidates, and it ought to do so in a whole-hearted manner, instead of, as it were, putting tricky obstacles in their way to trip them up and get them disqualified.

It ought to be clear to the EC itself that being forced to disqualify as many as thirteen would-be presidential candidates out of sixteen who applied, is too high an attrition rate. And the EC should behave like a sensible public body and recognise that if the system fails too high a proportion of those it was evolved to serve, then the system is dysfunctional.

(Now were a teacher to set an examination in which over 60 percent of his pupils failed, attention would essentially be drawn to his teaching methods, or maybe his marking techniques – not so? No intelligent person would automatically put all the blame on the intellectual capacities of his pupils; right?)

The Electoral Commission must heed the advice usually given to journalists employed by the better-quality media, that they must take care, when reporting, “not to become the story” themselves. There are times when – if say, you’re a lady who is covering the activities of a Donald Trump – you are obliged to report what he has tried to do to you or has actually done to you! But, in general, the idea is for the reporter to be as accurate as he/she can be, publish and go away.

In the same way, an Electoral Commission that has itself become the story, has ipso facto already failed. It’s failed in its job to facilitate the desire of members of the electorate to put themselves forward to the electorate as people who want to become their elected representatives. A failure on such a huge scale as has occurred, added to the heaps of bad publicity that the EC has attracted to itself because some political parties find its methods confrontational, ought to make the EC sit up and take notice.

By the way: how did our electoral laws become so complex that it takes some of our best qualified legal practitioners to understand them fully?

No – a system that cannot be correctly used by the people whom it was designed to serve must be seen as inefficient – pure and simple.

 

Source: Cameron Duodu