Ghana’s Electoral Commission (EC), established in 1993 by statute in accordance with the provisions of the 1992 Constitution, has played a key role in this process of consolidation. The commission is a seven-member autonomous body that enjoys a high reputation and has led the introduction of successive improvements of election management. One of its most successful innovations, responding to the boycott of the 1992 parliamentary elections by opposition political parties that had disputed the presidential election results, was the creation of the informal and non-statutory Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC). IPAC has only a consultative and advisory role, but it has been of great importance in building trust among political parties and in generating proposals for electoral reform.
Following criticisms of the 1996 elections, the EC and IPAC led the process of developing and adopting a code of conduct for political parties, with complaints investigation procedures established at district, regional and national level. The code, which was first implemented during the 2000 elections, has been an effective means of checking abuse of process by political parties – but it is weakened by its lack of legal force and of binding enforcement mechanisms. Nevertheless, violence between supporters of opposing candidates is the exception rather than the norm during Ghanaian elections.
Notwithstanding the EC’s strengths, there are outstanding concerns about the power of the president to appoint its members, and allegations from opposition parties that it is biased in favour of the government. To allay these, the Electoral Commission Act should be amended to provide for the involvement of Parliament as well as broad consultations with political parties and civil society organisations on the appointment of commission members.
Many Ghanaians also believe that the first-past-the-post electoral system, based on a simple majority in single-member constituencies, should be reviewed, with a view to introducing some form of proportional representation in order to increase the representation of minority political parties. Even though eight registered political parties were registered for the 2004 parliamentary and presidential elections, Ghana is operating a virtual two-party system: only the NPP and the NDC possess adequate popular support and the requisite national presence to be able to win an election and form the government.
Moreover, with the strengthening of electoral management at the national level, attention has turned to the need for greater respect for democratic norms within political parties them- selves. There have been many reports of decidedly undemocratic practices during the primary elections for selection of candidates for president and Parliament. The code of conduct for politi- cal parties does not currently apply – but should be extended – to party primaries, to check abuses at this level of democratic participation. Party congresses have also shown up a lack of internal party democracy, and policy platforms appear rather to be imposed from above than debated from below. There is finally the perception that in Ghana the parties and their candidates are often more interested in personal attacks than in issue-based politics.
As in most countries, funding of political parties raises many problematic issues. Though abuse of state resources by incumbent parties has become increasingly less acceptable, there is no really effective system to check such abuses. Another source of concern is the growing influence of money in Ghanaian elections, as evident in expensive campaigns, vote-buying and treating of potential supporters. Statutory regulation of party finances is urgently needed, as well as a credible system of public funding for political parties.
Ghana has – thankfully – escaped the ethnic strife affecting many of its neighbours in West Africa. Yet there are concerns about politicians’ use of language that could fan ethnic tensions, especially at election time. Commentators have also noted an ‘ethnicisation’ of political parties. Support for the two main parties, the NPP and NDC, increasingly splits along Akan vs. non- Akan lines – despite burdensome laws requiring parties to have offices in two-thirds of Ghana’s 138 districts and representation among their founding members from the major zones of the country. Moreover, at every election period the alleged registration of non-Ghanaians as voters has resulted in tension and violence between opposed groups, especially in the border areas of Ghana. In 2003, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted that existing legislation in Ghana did not conform to Article 4 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination relating to prohibitions on the promotion of racial hatred, and recommended that the law be amended to provide greater protection. The code of conduct for political parties has also not been fully effective in checking such speech. There is a need to monitor politicians more closely in this area, as well as for further discussion on the best means
of ensuring that Ghana retains its reputation as a country relatively untroubled by ethnic conflict – while not imposing overly restrictive rules on parties that in practice prevent their effective organisation and campaigning. An enforcement mechanism for the code of conduct will go a long way towards ensuring that political parties abide by the rules of the democratic political game.
One of the lessons of Ghana’s progress since 1992 has been the importance of institutions outside the formal structures of elections and political parties in deepening and protecting democracy. In particular, Ghana has benefited from a strong and diverse media, from a burgeon- ing set of civil society organisations that have real ability both to mobilise citizens and to engage in policy dialogue, and from the role played by constitutional or statutory bodies charged with oversight of government functions.
Since the restoration of civilian rule in 1993, and especially since the 2001 repeal of the Criminal Libel Law which in the past had been used to incarcerate journalists, print and broad- cast media have flourished. Ghana has a substantially improved rating in the Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Sans Frontières, coming 34th in the world and the fourth in Africa in 2006 (behind Benin, Namibia and Mauritius). All political shades of opinion are now freely aired, and the use of local languages on radio especially has widened participation in political debates beyond levels unimaginable only two decades ago. The Constitution provides that all state-owned media shall provide equal access to political parties to present their programmes.
Nevertheless, the situation is far from perfect. Five years after the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, some vocal journalists complain of anonymous threats and phone calls, secret trail- ing, character assassination and stifling of business. Despite the proliferation of radio stations in different languages, it can be difficult to access good quality reporting outside the major urban areas. Monitoring of state broadcasters indicates that the constitutional requirement of equal access for all political parties is not respected in practice. There is a need for continued vigilance and corrective action on all these issues.
There exists in Ghana a strong associational culture and a vibrant civil society. Several long-established civil society organisations have been active in the economic, social and political sectors of the country. There has been a proliferation of policy think-tanks, human rights organi- sations, women’s rights groups and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) since 1980; these organisations are notable both for their outreach to grassroots groups and for their ability to engage in serious policy dialogue. They have been instrumental in introducing and attaining successful outcomes for a long string of government policy initiatives, on poverty reduction, domestic violence legislation, disability rights and many others.
In 1993 the government issued a bill to regulate NGOs, which would have imposed controls and restrictions on NGO activity. NGO protests at the provisions led the government to beat a
quick retreat. NGOs and the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare then worked together to develop a policy document that was eventually adopted by the ministry in 2000, as the ‘Draft National Policy for Strategic Partnership with NGOs’. The draft provides for an enabling environ- ment for NGO activity; however, progress on enacting the policy into law has stalled completely. Government should now formally adopt the draft policy and submit legislation to Parliament based on the agreed framework.
Ghana has also taken important steps towards achieving greater gender equality and pro- moting women’s participation in politics, in line with CEDAW. As a practical demonstration of this commitment, in 1998, the cabinet adopted an affirmative action policy which established a 40 per cent quota for women’s representation on all government boards, commissions, com- mittees and other official bodies. In 2001, the government followed this up by the creation of a Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs (MOWAC). However, Ghana is not a party to the CEDAW protocol accepting the jurisdiction of the CEDAW committee to receive individual com- plaints from Ghana; and it has only signed (in 2003) but not ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.