Come 17 December 2019, Ghanaians who have attained the rightful age of 18 and above and are eligible to vote, will be queuing to elect assembly members and district committee members – the base of Ghana’s local government system.
This is what we refer to as the District Assembly Elections (DAE).
District Assembly Elections are mostly on the quiet without the tension and buzz that characterise the presidential and parliamentary elections.
However, the 2019 DAE has symbolically changed from a “silent cat who only watches and walks away into a loud caged dog that barks at everything new it sees.”
From the highest office of the presidency to the local drinking bar down the street corner of Nima, every Ghanaian is talking about the DAE due to the addition of a REFERENDUM to amend Article 55 (3) of the 1992 Constitution.
The referendum asks Ghanaians whether they want political parties to fully participate in local level elections or not.
A YES vote will give political parties the green light to do so while a NO vote will maintain the status quo where local level elections are non-partisan – in principle.
Opinions on which outcome will be ideal are, however, divided.
Politicians are divided over the matter, chiefs are divided, civil society groups are divided and ordinary Ghanaians are divided as well.
The government is advocating a YES vote.
“A YES vote will strengthen our multi-party democracy consistent with our constitution”, the governing New Patriotic Party’s General Secretary John Boadu said at a press conference on Monday, 18 November 2019, adding: “A YES vote will strengthen our system of decentralisation by proving a coordinated and an organised political system. A YES vote, ladies and gentlemen, will provide a greater opportunity for citizens of voting-age to participate in political activities intended to influence policies at the local government level. A YES vote will meet the constitutional mandate imposed on political parties to freely participate in shaping the political will of the people, especially at the local level.”
The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) and its Minority in Parliament, according to the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Hajia Alima Mahama, as well as the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP), initially supported a YES vote but are now pushing the electorate to vote No, a claim the General Secretary of the NDC, Mr Johnson Asiedu Nketiah has denied.
At a press conference on Tuesday, 12 November 2019, the National Chairman of the NDC, Mr Samuel Ofosu-Ampofo, said: “…We, however, took the view that the local government system should remain non-partisan and that individuals contest the District Assembly and Unit Committee elections on their own merit”. “We, therefore, decided to campaign for a NO vote at the referendum and to urge all Ghanaians to vote NO at the referendum.”
The NDC said the NDC-NPP polarisation at the national level should not be extended into the District Assemblies and Unit Committees, which is what will happen if we vote to make the local government system partisan.
Members of the Coalition of former Metropolitan, Municipal, District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) are also calling for a NO vote.
According to the coalition, a YES vote is “a vote in absolute darkness.”
The group explained that amending Article 55(3) gives more power and influence to the politician rather than the citizens in the community. “Have the politicians accounted positively for the power and influence given to them at the national level? How has the MPs’ influence and power benefited the constituents? Is the cake not shared on party lines? What is the development situation in the orphan constituencies?” they quizzed.
The coalition noted that development at the local assemblies has no political colours, hence development projects are not normally abandoned but voting for implementing officers along partisan lines will, invariably, result in development on parochial partisan lines at the local level and possibly halt development projects started by a particular administration to the disadvantage of the local communities.
One institution that should be applauded for educating and creating awareness about the upcoming referendum is the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE). One may say the NCCE is only carrying out its constitutional mandate of educating Ghanaians on their civil rights but have we forgotten so soon that the NCCE has, over the years, been chastised for sleeping on the job? And, so, for this new vigour and awakening, the Commission deserves to be applauded.
Deputy Commissioner of the NCCE, Ms Kathleen Addy, sharing her thoughts on the upcoming referendum has reiterated that the most important thing is that Ghanaians will turn up on 17 December to cast their ballot for or against the motion.
According to her, cogent reasons have been adduced for both YES and NO votes. In an interview, Ms Addy stated that a vote for NO will ensure that the non-partisan nature of local election remains unchanged, keeping it easier for independent candidates to have a better chance of being elected to Assemblies.
Another reason to vote NO is to preserve the nature of non-partisan local elections, where the seeming vote-buying associated with partisan national elections is absent.
There is also a strong sentiment that the nature of partisanship we practice in Ghana has not been helpful in our democratic journey, as it is seen as highly divisive and, therefore, unproductive. As such it may be better to keep this divisiveness from local government.
Making a point for a YES vote, Ms Addy made the following observations:
Political party involvement in local level elections will deepen Ghana’s democracy by ensuring that the will of the people is upheld and may address the vexing matter of low voter turn-out that historically plagues district level elections.
A YES vote may make political leaders at the local level more accountable to the people they lead, as the people will have a say in whether they stay in office or not.
A YES vote will make you see clearly who you’re voting for and where he/she is aligned to make better assessment and an informed decision to give them a chance to manage our local resources or not.
Ms Addy concluded that the most important thing is that Ghanaians must go out and vote as mandated by the Constitution. At least, 40% of registered voters must vote and 75% must cast their vote for the motion in order for it to pass. If that threshold is not met, the motion will not pass. The referendum creates a wonderful opportunity for citizens to directly participate in an important democratic exercise and all must take advantage of this.
To Ms Addy, whether a YES vote or a NO vote, Ghanaians will decide on 17 December.