The Independence of the Electoral commission can be assured only if the appointment, terms of office and removal of the Chief Electoral commissioner and his/her deputies are insulated from the influence of the political executive.
The independence of the Electoral commission is firmly enshrined in the 1992 constitution and was envisioned as an independent body to act for the avowed purpose of pursuing the objective of free and fair elections. The recent conduct of Jean Mensah and her commissioners, where they are unable to act independently, has raised several questions about its (EC) impartiality and ability to act fairly and independently.
The methods and processes for appointing and removing the Electoral commissioner(s) make them politically vulnerable which, in turn, affect the functioning of the Electoral commission. My argument relates to the likelihood of bias in the appointments made and the possibility of biased conduct by appointed commissioners. The Electoral commission has, previously, seen fiercely independent Electoral commissioners like Dr Afari Gyan who went a long way in taming unruly politicians- but such celebrated Electoral commissioner is rather an exception when compared to the current commissioners. This is so due to the preference given to politically pliant candidates over independent candidates.
The Electoral Commission needs to be insulated from the executive influence through drastic changes in this process of appointment and removal of the commissioners and providing it with a permanent Secretariat to oversee its conditions service etc.
Given the importance of free and fair elections in the working of our democracy and the critical role the Electoral commission plays, the next government would have to revisit some of the long pending demands to reform and process of its constitution and functioning. The reform must ensure true independence of the body by insulating it from the influence and dictates of the political executive. The appointment process mattered little since Dr Afari Gyan turned the Commission into a fiercely independent and powerful institution, but the current situation and danger it poses, calls for a rethink.
Given the cut throat world of our politics, one also cannot discount that both governments and opposition parties may continue to proceed on the lines we witnessing. Everyone will have their eyes on the ultimate prize of seeking Electoral advantage rather than reform. The government may may believe that a lack of reform will better ensure a successful reelection. Meanwhile, opposition parties may want to use the lack of substantive Electoral reforms to shore up their agitation against the government and the Electoral commission should they take issue with election results. When the Npp goes back to opposition, we shall hear and witness same if not heavier anti-EC sentiments and agitations.
I for see intense pressure and demands on the next NDC administration from civil society organizations, election experts, party supporters, religious leaders and majority of Ghanaians to remove the current Electoral commissioner and her deputies using same procedure, method and procedure President Akufo-Addo and his faceless friends used to remove Madam Charlotte Osei. The Electoral commission lost its independence and credibility the very day this President accepted that petition from his faceless friends and decided to get at the EC boss via that path. That singular decision undermined confidence in the Commission and our nascent democratic order.
The sanctity of our Electoral process and the institutional integrity of the Electoral commission is in serious jeopardy. There must be a thorough credible enquiry into the issues raised by civil society organizations, political actors and election experts and restoration of the commission’s independent status as the watchdog of our democracy.
Madam Jean Mensah and her commissioners tell Ghanaians that the commission is an independent body so should be allowed to do its work without interference. Are they saying that the people-the voters- should not know or be concerned about the manner in which the commission is conducting its business? There is no need for any proof that another independent institution has been captured by this government. The President and his party removed Charlotte and demolished the integrity of the commission to enable them have full control over the Electoral commission and its activities.
What Jean Mensah, her commissioners, and all those who think the Electoral commission must be allowed to enjoy absolute autonomy should know is that- democracy runs like a golden thread in the social, economic and political fabric woven by the constitution given by “We”, the people of mother Ghana unto ourselves and it is our duty and responsibility to protect and maintain the sanctity of the system and its institutions. Elections hold fundamental importance in a democratic country like Ghana. They ensure that the will of the countrymen is reflected in their elected leaders. They also act as a platform to express resentment against a ruling party as election of a different government proves that the ultimate authority lies with the people. This is the reason why we must all ensure the efficacy of our elections. I think the legislature must play a part in the selection and appointment of our Electoral commission. Appointment and removal of the Electoral commissioners by the executive in consultation with our toothless council of state and the Attorney General defending this commission are all practices we must begin to scrutinize.
By Ohenenana Obonti Krow