Put electoral dates on national calendar
Professor E. Gyimah-Boadi, Executive Director of the Center of Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), has called on the Electoral Commission (EC) to put all the specific dates relating to general elections on the national calendar at the beginning of the electoral year to enable political parties to adequately prepare for them.
He also urged the EC to provide prospective presidential and parliamentary candidates with their nomination documents early enough for them to be able to make their trips round the country expeditiously and get people to endorse their nominations as required by law. Prof. Gyimah-Boadi was speaking at a day's consultative seminar, organized by the Council of State in conjunction with the CDD on the theme: "Towards Peaceful, Free and Fair Election 2004; Consultations with Political Parties and Other Stakeholders."
The UNDP and the National Governance Program (NGP) sponsored the seminar, which was attended by Members of the Council of State, representatives of political parties, the media and civil society organizations.
It was to provide an impartial forum for political parties and other key stakeholders in the democratic process to deliberate on the imperatives of political tolerance, peace, freedom and fairness in the forthcoming elections and to explore ways of reducing election conflict and foster peaceful, credible, free and fair elections.
Prof. Gyimah-Boadi argued that advanced notification of political parties and prospective independent candidates about the specific dates for voter registration, photo-taking, display of the voters' registers, filing of nomination and the Election Day itself, would go a long way to give credibility to the electioneering process and prevent conflicts to a large extent.
He mentioned some of the causes of electoral conflicts as entrenched ethnicity; arrogance and the show of power on the part of the majority or the incumbent, abuse of incumbency, poor electoral organization, excessive discretion in the hands of electoral authorities, ruling party manipulation of voter registration and gerrymandering of constituency boundaries in favor of particular political party among other things.
Prof Gyimah-Boadi noted that Ghana's elections, like those of Senegal and a few other West African countries, had usually been described as free and fair by foreign observers, though it had never been perfect.
There was, however, the need to look out for certain early warning signs of violent prone elections, if the freedom and peaceful nature of elections were to be consolidated.
He named some of the early warning signs as voter list manipulation, refusal to register some political parties and their candidates, electoral rigging, poor and inconsistent delimitation of electoral constituencies, too much Police or Military presence at polls and voter intimidation, violent campaign utterances and use of inciting language by politicians.
Prof. Gyimah-Boadi also mentioned the use of youth militia and thugs (macho men) in electoral campaigns and on polling day, blatantly biased media, vote buying and selling, manipulation of electoral results, rejection of electoral results, poor timing of electoral process and the winner takes all attitude, as major warning signs of a conflict prone elections.
He said the examples of Malawi, Liberia, Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea/Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina-Faso and other countries in the West Africa Sub-Region, were examples of how political leaders either ignored the warning signs or rather took advantage of them till violence set in.
Prof. Gyimah-Boadi said the prevention of violence during election period required such civic education that would necessarily include educating voters on why they should be penalized and should not be rewarded with their votes, candidates and parties, who enticed them with cash, appealed to them on ethnic basis, made empty promises and irresponsible statements.
He said the media had a special role in providing Ghanaians with information on the electoral process as well as flagging the early warning signals by bringing to the fore irresponsible statements made by politicians to let the public be able to sieve out the bad nuts, who had divisive tendencies.
"I am personally very uncomfortable with the frequent exhortation on Journalists to ignore irresponsible statements by politicians - the electorate has the right to know which of their public figures has made a statement in public that was irresponsible, as reporting such statements, especially where they are the truth, can only advance the public interest," he said.
Prof. Gyimah-Boadi said: "The EC also occupies a vantage position to inform the public as to whether political parties are conforming broadly to their constitutional and legal obligations to practice internal democracy and to have a national character, as opposed to having a sectarian character."
"When it comes to the creation, prevention and reduction of violent election conflicts, the most direct responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the political parties, their candidates and followers."
He, therefore, urged political party leaders and candidates to refrain from making personal attacks on and from unsubstantiated and baseless allegations against their opponents.
The Professor noted that elections, everywhere, even in the matured democracies, were never free of some amount of dispute, adding; "however, electoral disputes do not necessarily have to result in violent conflicts."