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Inching Towards Democracy

By Kallee Lins

Photo by Ashley Grzybowski

International media including the New York Times and The Guardian praised Ghana’s latest elections in 2008 as being remarkably fair and transparent. Ghanaians, however, are well aware of issues during the registration and voting phases. Many electoral issues can be attributed to inadequate oversight of political parties and challenges to holding them accountable for their actions during elections. Before the last election, the Electoral Commission (EC), the body responsible for conducting elections in Ghana, said publicly that ineligible voters increased the size of the registry. Kwesi Kyei, a member of the New Patriotic
Party (NPP), identified three groups of people who register more than once: those that have moved to a new region, those who have lost their voter id cards and those who intentionally register twice.

Ghana citizens are eligible to vote when they turn 18. Amakye Boateng, a political science lecturer from
Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology (KNUST), says registration issues have been due to the lack of a national identification system. Last year, Ghana began its first national identification project to establish a database of all citizens. Previously, no system to verify whether people registering to vote were over eighteen existed. Boateng says political parties taking advantage the lack of regulation is the larger issue. Speaking about the role of political parties in voter misconduct, he links the problem to illiteracy and the tendency for political leadership to take advantage of that reality because, “They, in a way, stage manage it.” He says illiteracy is a main factor in electoral issues. He says voters who fully understand their role will likely not be influenced to act in discordance with it.

Vote buying and other unlawful means of gaining political leverage is seen within parties as well. Boateng ran unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate in 2000. He says the pay-offs are a fundamental part of elections at the party primary level. Boateng considered entering the running for another candidateship in the following election, but party members said they were planning on voting for another candidate. The other candidate contributed regularly to the party. They told Boateng that he had no reason to run, unless he intended to “rock the boat.” He says structural issues are a central problem. The flat cost of doing politics is very high. “At the end of the day, it’s money that counts. So before you become a parliamentarian, you will have incurred so much cost.”

Boateng says “the campaign is unnecessarily accompanied by violence,” is more disconcerting than financial
misdealing. In some cases one person voted several times, because of physical violence. “They intimidate the officers and the few police even who are there at the ballot boxes at the time of the election,” says Boateng. Mercy Tuffour, political science graduate from KNUST, acted as a polling assistant in the 2008 election. She manned a polling station positioned only a few metres from the next one. Determined to keep order in place, if a political party representative came in to give someone money or rig the election, she would make sure they were “punished by law.” At the next station she says there were “loud breakups.” She called the police.

She blames the political parties for the pockets of violence, double-voting, and other election day misconduct. She believes they use their political power to entice voters, particularly youth, to engage in these activities by promising job prospects or financial compensation. When it comes to the security, and the fair operation of polling stations, Kofi Asomaning, Regional Director of the Ashante district electoral commission, says political parties need to send competent observers to the polling stations. For transparency voting is done in open air. Observers guarantee voting follows regulations.

Political parties select who they send to the polling stations. The EC provides training for those selected. A
common situation is that once observers have been trained, parties will send a different set of observers to the polling stations. Asomaning says political parties claim if they were to send their trained personnel to the polling, the public would recognize them, easily influencing voters. Instead they often send untrained observers with more brawn than electoral knowledge to the polling centres.

There are many regulations in place to ensure accountability on behalf of political parties. However, the
problem is with enforcement. The Political Parties Act states parties must submit a yearly statement to the EC including all of their assets and expenditures. Both Boateng and Kyei say this is hardly ever done. Last year Asomaning announced every political party failed to submit their accounts. The Commission cannot regulate spending without the accounts.

Starting to show force in the drive for fair and transparent elections in Ghana is the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC), a council composed of all political parties, the EC and other political stakeholders. Created to enhance cooperation between parties, it also informs parties on the Commission’s work. The EC is not required to implement the parties’ suggestions. The idea is if parties have more say in the electoral system, they will be more apt to commit themselves to its processes. Asomaning believes if political actors understand why certain processes exist, they will abide by electoral regulations.

“It’s been a very good thing,” says Kyei. He hopes political parties will continue participating in the decision
making. Many successful reforms have come out of discussions by IPAC. Transparent ballot boxes replaced black ones, showing voters they arrive empty at polling stations. IPAC also runs parliamentary and presidential candidate debates. Though electoral issues are apparent to many Ghanaians, there is still overwhelming support and confidence in Ghana’s democracy as demonstrated by increasing voter turnout. Asomaning says voter confidence is a result of actions and reforms implemented by the EC. “It’s because of
the way the commission conducts itself. The commission is transparent in all its activities,” he says. “We are trying to ensure that there’s a level playing field for everyone ” .

He says despite the work of the commission, some individuals still abuse the system for personal gain. Asomaning says like the EC, political parties are “human institutions” and some try to abuse the system. “What is important is we are seen to be doing what is right ” . He says the electoral system will improve only if all stakeholders – including parties – abide by the rules. Some of Ghana’s political parties are working to
make their operations corruption-proof. More than 115,000 individuals will vote on the NPP flag bearer for the 2012 election. Kyei says this is a first for political parties in the country.
Before only 10 members from each constituency would travel to a single location to cast their ballot. Now,
16 members from each constituency will cast a ballot in the same riding within the presence of five party executives. Kyei says she is confident the expansion from only 2,400 voters will significantly curb vote-buying within the party. With 115,000 votes he says, “How much can you pay?” Kyei expects other parties to follow, adopting these measures to curb corruption.

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