New Voters Register Begins

 Jean Mensa

Ghanaians will be queuing today at the various designated 33,367 polling centres across the country to register for the compilation of a new voters’ roll to be used for the 2020 general election.

The new voters’ register to be compiled by the Electoral Commission (EC) is the culmination of a long and tortuous political journey full of twists and turns.

Divided Opinion

The ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the main opposition party, National Democratic Congress (NDC), have been at loggerheads on the need for a new voters’ register for the December 2020 general election.

While the ruling NPP has stuck to its principled position of the need for the compilation of a new voters’ register by the EC even when in opposition because of the fact that it is bloated by about two million voters, the opposition NDC is also adamant that the current register should not be changed despite the fact that it has been used for over eight years and has some flaws.

Court Action

The sharp differences over the compilation of the new voters’ register compelled the NDC and its assigns to go to the Supreme Court to block the EC from compiling a new register for the 2020 elections.

The Supreme Court, however, threw out the NDC saying that it does not have the power to interfere in the constitutional duty of the EC since, as a body, the EC has been clothed with the authority to compile a new voters’ register as it deems it necessary.

The Supreme Court then affirmed that old voters’ identity cards as well as birth certificates which were being pushed by the NDC and its assigns cannot be used as proof of eligibility of an applicant for the compilation of the new voters’ register.

Numerous Adverts

Prior to the commencement of the registration exercise which is starting today and will be ending on August 6, there have been the splashing of advertisements in both the print and the electronic media towards raising the necessary awareness.

One of the features of the registration exercise which the EC is a prerequisite towards a successful exercise is the special arrangements to have applicants go through an enhanced hygiene protocol as necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the commission’s advertisements its concern for the safety of applicants are specially highlighted.

Applicants who turn up for the exercise will have their temperatures taken as they mandatorily wash their hands among the other safety protocols before being allowed to go through the registration proper.

Twists, Turns

For those who stood in the way of the exercise and vowed that it would never come on, they have visibly calmed down as they are busy encouraging their people to go out and register.

It would be recalled that the NDC flag bearer, John Dramani Mahama, the former President, who is staging a comeback after he was defeated heavily as incumbent, had indicated that the insistence on going ahead with the exercise is a recipe for chaos in the country.

He went ahead to state that in the event of strife originating from the insistence to go ahead with the registration, the EC Chairperson should be held responsible.

Ironically, he has had a change of heart as he made a volte-face last week when he met party faithful in the Volta Region during which engagement he said whichever way the Supreme Court judgement went all should go out and register to vote in the December polls.

NDC Tantrums

Earlier, leading members of the party at different locations were harsh with their remarks about the exercise, with some even threatening civil war and violence over the exercise.

Bernard Mornah, People’s National Convention (PNC) Chairman but hugely inclined politically towards the NDC, secured a CID invitation after threatening death if the registration goes ahead.

The Director of Elections of the party, Elvis Afriyie-Ankrah, had also urged the leadership of the party to invest in everything that could stall the planned registration exercise.

He even suggested occupying the streets of Accra as a means of weakening the resolve of the EC to compile a new voters’ register but the commission has remained resolute in its work.

NDC National Chairman Ofosu-Ampofo attracted headlines during his infamous remarks during his meeting with the party’s communicators.

His plans against the EC Chairperson were loud and clear when he laid out his strategy of ramping up attacks on her. The strategies leaked and prompted the action of the CID because of the threat to national security therein.

When the NDC’s varied attacks on Ms Jean Mensa commenced many concluded that, bingo, the vicious plans have started.

Past Records

The commencement of the process marks an important footnote in the annals of elections in the country.

Efforts by non-NDC political actors in the past to have the register replaced because of myriad of shortcomings inherent in it could not be carried through in the past.

The former Chairperson of the Commission, Charlotte Osei, whose body language suggested her aversion to the replacement constituted a conversation of political parties to deliberate on the subject.

The composition of the parties was queried by observers who opposed the retention of the register as deliberate constituted in a manner to favour the wish of the then ruling NDC.

Expectedly, therefore, the flawed register was used for the last elections.

EC Statement

Yesterday, the Chairperson of the Commission, Jean Mensa, arguably, the lady the NDC members love to hate and attack, spoke to the nation about the month-long process.

It was a talk intended to further explain the processes and how much the EC had invested in ensuring that all works well.

Old System

Some factors which informed the replacement of the current voters’ register is about upgrading what is by all standards an antiquated voting system with a state-of-the-art gadget.

Such an exercise during one of the explanations from the EC cannot be possible without replacing what the previous managers of the system themselves admitted had become obsolete.

The issue of sovereignty was another reason put forth in favour of a replacement of the register.

The foreign managers were privy to details which the EC itself had no access to. Staff of the Information Technology Department of the EC had a limited or negligible knowledge about the system they were supposed to be custodians of.

CSOs, Others

The anti-new voters’ register field was wide, a civil society organization coalition playing a crucial part in it.

The EC met the coalition to explain the rationale behind the compilation of a new register. This did not convince the coalition which, even the end of the conversation with the EC had organized a press conference to speak against the new register efforts.

A so-called lecturers group also joined the pack with a call on the EC not to go ahead with the compilation. Unfortunately, many of the names which were ostensibly part of the group quickly dissociated themselves from the NDC-induced project.

Military Presence

A massive military presence along the country’s frontiers has attracted a spin from the NDC. Its goal is to create the impression that there is an agenda to intimidate the people.

The NDC project has, however, failed because the military presence is not restricted to the Volta and Oti regions.

Rawlings’s Concern

Former President Jerry John Rawlings, in a statement about the military presence in the Volta and Oti regions, has observed that is causing ‘animosity’ among the people.

“The deployment along the borders in peacetime, especially at this particular point in time, has created so much suspicion and will call for a lot of intelligent flexibility and diligence,” he said in a statement from his Communications Directorate.

Covid-19, according to him, has created enough difficulties for most citizens, saying “let us not make it worse with overbearing and intimidating behaviour towards our border dwellers whose livelihood solely depends on activities along the border.”

Foreigners Entry

It is clear that in spite of the closure of the borders there have been many breaches as foreigners still manage to come into the country although some persons have been arrested that has not stopped the breaches.

It is common knowledge that when Ghana is about to embark on an electoral exercise, many Togolese are encouraged to come in to partake.

The closure of the borders was ordered by the President as one of the country’s responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Proof of Citizenship

The proof of citizenship has been the source of the worry for the NDC, the grouping not in favour of the non-admission of the old voters’ card as one of the qualifications.

The new CI (CI 126) has officially authorized that the Ghanaian Passport, Ghana Card or the guaranteeing of 10 persons by a registered voter will be the only means for one to be registered.

By A.R. Gomda