NEWS COMMENTARY ON THE CONTROVERSIES SURROUNDING COMPILATION OF A NEW VOTERS’ REGISTER.
The Electoral Commission has just concluded a two Pilot Voters Registration Exercise in all the sixteen regional capitals in the country. The essence of the exercise was to identify problems associated with the new system to find ways of mitigating them. The exercise is a strong and clear signal that the Electoral Commission is going ahead with its decision to discard the existing register and compile a completely new one in spite of strong opposition and resistance from the main opposition party, the NDC, other opposition parties and dozens of Civil Society Organisations.
There is no doubt that the 1992 constitution guarantees the freedom and independence of the Electoral Commission in the discharge of its functions. However, it is important to understand that, the same constitution enjoins the so called independent bodies not to exercise their powers or discretion capriciously. In view of the consequences of electoral disputes, it is important that the EC does not glow too much in its supposed independence but gives a listening ear to key stakeholders who have some concerns.
One does not expect the EC to just give in to the demands of an opposition party but the Commission must adduce cogent reasons why the wishes of a party cannot be granted. But in a situation where the Commission portrays itself as an avowed rival of the opposition and a bed fellow of the ruling party instead of being seen as a neutral arbiter, it leaves much to be desired. The EC must understand that there are clear concerns and reasonable fears among a section of the public which it must addressed.
In going ahead with the registration in the midst of COVID-19, how effective are the measures the EC announced and what assurances are there that the said measures will be adhered to. The EC must know that just one positive person can infect hundred others. There is no need emphasizing that presently, there is no known vaccine for the virus. That is why the Commission must be guided by the statement of the President, when he said “we know how to bring back the economy but we cannot bring back life”.
Another concern the EC must avert its mind to is the need not to put in place obstacles to disenfranchise eligible voters. The Constitution is clear as to who qualifies to vote in national elections. The problem arises when the EC decides to limit the proof of nationality to just the Ghana card issued by the National Identification Authority and a Passport. One wonders why the EC decided to exclude the more common birth certificate and the old voters ID card from the list. The irony is that the birth certificate is the primary document for the acquisition of the Ghana card and the passport. The argument that non Ghanaians are in possession of the birth certificate and even the old voters ID card cannot fly, because same argument can be made for or against the Ghana card and the passport. The argument that those who do not have either of the two cards can be vouched for by two registered voters appears to be unreasonable. The right to vote conferred on a citizen should not be left at the mercy and benevolence of another person. That is why the EC ought to make provision for as many cards as possible for Ghanaians to use in the registration.
After all, if there is any doubt about the nationality or age of any prospective voter, such a person can be challenged and the onus will lie on him or her to prove their eligibility. One also wonders why the Commission is not accepting the existing voters ID cards as well. If the people were eligible to vote in previous elections, what stops them from voting in the next election? The refusal to accept the existing voters ID card flies in the face of the normal practice where people will have to present their expired or damaged cards such as passport and drivers license to be issued a new one.
The mandate of the Commission is to deliver a free, fair, transparent and credible election which reflects the will of the people. This does not happen on only the day of the election but rather from all the processes leading to the election and the declaration. The basic document for the election is the voters register. One can win or lose an election depending on how the register is compiled. There must not be any manifestation of an attempt, a scheme or a desire to deny any particular group of people from registering. Every qualified voter must not only be given the opportunity but also assisted where necessary to register. Going forward and to avoid similar agitations in the future, the EC must consider issuing permanent ID cards to voters and put in place continuous registration whereby any Ghanaian who turns 18 can just walk to any EC office and register.
In this era when there is heightened anxiety and uncertainties over the coronavirus pandemic, we need not to complicate matters with needles disputes about electoral matters.
God bless our homeland Ghana and makes our nation great and strong.
BY BUBU KLINOGO, A JOURNALIST AND POLITICAL ANALYST.