Over the last few days, both traditional and electronic news media have been awash with stories concerning the Electoral Commission’s intention of compiling a new voters’ register for this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on December 7. Varied media reportage appear to have focused on the contrasting opinions and perspectives canvassed by political parties, civil society organizations and groupings, religious and faith-based institutions, and the generality of the population about the notion of a new voters’ register compilation.
A bit of historical recall of where we’ve come from on this democratic pathway could help situate the key message of this piece. The Electoral Commission of Ghana is a statutory institution established by the 1992 Constitution (Article 45) to undertake the preparation of voter identity cards and issue of voter identity cards, among others. The Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC), as it was then called, was set up to oversee the 1992 elections that ushered us into the current fourth republican constitutional dispensation. It has since metamorphosed into the Electoral Commission (EC). It has supervised seven successive electoral cycles, which has seen political power alternate between two major political parties, making it a cradle of excellence in elections and elections management within the continent, and even across the globe.
Over the last two decades, the EC has instituted reform measures in various areas of elections management. It has changed from opaque ballot boxes to transparent polling boxes and moved from manual voter registration to biometric voter registration. Again, political parties have been allowed greater involvement through the formation of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC). These are just a few of the measures the EC has undertaken to improve its election management and retain the public’s trust. Such reforms have been done with the view to deepening and entrenching the country’s enviable democratic culture, and it appears reforms have become a working philosophy at the heart of the commission’s work. Nonetheless, the recent communique issued by the EC to compile a new voters’ register to ensure that polls conducted are free, fair and transparent has ignited mixed discussions and reactions concerning the propriety or otherwise of the decision. Some political parties and civil society groups argue that the decision is a calculated attempt by the commission to align with government efforts in rigging the ensuing elections, while others believe a new register is needed because the current register is bloated and unfit to be used for the elections.
At a presser on December 31, 2019 addressed by the Deputy EC Chairman in charge of Operations, Mr. Samuel Tettey said “the EC intends to procure a new Biometric Voter Management Solution ahead of the 2020 general election. The commission took the decision based on the advice of its IT team and external consultants to the effect that it would be prudent to acquire a new system rather than refurbish the current system. In the view of the experts, the cost of frequent replacement of failing parts and the renewal of warranties through third-parties was comparable to the acquisition of a brand new system with full service and warranties. In effect, the amount of money spent on refurbishing parts and renewing warranties could be used to acquire a brand new system that is robust, modern, durable and user-friendly with full functionality and warranties.
“It is important to note that the equipment that the entire voter management system runs on, from enrollment, deduplication and adjudication to voter verification is obsolete and no longer supported by their Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM). The report from the immediate past vendors of the solution indicated that the commission would assume so much needless risks if steps were not taken to change the equipment.”
Such a statement as put forward by the EC suggests that considerable research has been done on the current system; the various options were evaluated and a considered decision taken by them. The independence of the EC as an impartial arbiter of all public elections is enshrined in the 1992 Constitution, Article 451 (Clause 3) which states that “except as provided in the constitution or in any other law not inconsistent with the constitution, in the performance of its functions, the electoral commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.” This provision clearly echoes how the commission is protected from the whims and caprices of any authority and beyond the control or direction of any individual or group of persons. The issuance of various statements by diverse political actors, social groupings and individuals impressing upon the commission to take a stance in tandem with their individualized positions is akin to the usurpation of the commission’s powers. And such posturing is quite unfortunate and regrettable as they lack the locus in such pursuits and attempts like that could threaten our enviable record as a nation fully embracing the tenets and institutions of democratization. The current situation could further polarize the country and heighten tensions ahead of the elections in December; resulting in a precarious situation that could breed irreparable consequences for the nation.
To this end, we must all exercise extreme restraint and circumspection in the incessant demands made of the EC concerning the voter roll, and allow the commission to make that determination acting solely on its powers as stipulated by the 1992 Constitution. The commission’s decision to either maintain the existing register or replace it with a new one lies not in the hands of an individual or institution, but is purely the commission’s prerogative in consonance with constitutional provisions and other legislations not contrary to the 1992 Constitution.
Let us be mindful that a functional democracy exists where institutions are allowed to operate without duress or undue influence in the discharge of their mandated duties.
Dr. Prince H. Armah(PhD, Aberdeen)