12 December 2012

Ghana: Taking the Verdict to Court

Ghana's ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) was declared to have won in both the presidential and parliamentary elections last weekend. But, following allegations of electoral fraud by the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), the NDC may now have to wait on a High Court decision to find out whether the poll results will be annulled and a recount ordered.

President John Mahama appealed to his rivals to join him as partners for the sake of the nation and told Ghanaians that his apparent victory in these elections - the sixth since the end of military rule in 1992 - is a victory for all Ghanaians. But this is clearly not a view shared by the NPP and its leader Nana Akufo-Addo. Their accusations of fraud extend to both the NDC and some of the staff at the country's Electoral Commission.

Should fraud claims be ignored?

The seriousness of the allegations being made by the NPP has provoked mixed responses. Many have accused the opposition of being sore losers and, predictably, both the NDC and Electoral Commission have denied any such collusion and appealed to Ghanaians to accept the election results. For the ruling NDC and Mahama - who would be ruling the country with the mandate of the people for the first time, having first assumed office in the wake of the President John Atta Mills' death this July - electoral enquiries would naturally be an unwelcome distraction.

But several others - including former president and NDC founder Jerry Rawlings -argue that the NPP has the right to make allegations if it believes fraud has been perpetrated. However, especially given that respected impartial observers - including regional bloc ECOWAS, the African Union, and national organisations such as the National Peace Council (NPC) - declared the elections to be free and fair, these voices stress that the NPP must bring forward very convincing evidence to substantiate its claims.

"A stolen verdict"

But what forms of electoral malpractice have driven the NPP to claim that "the verdict is stolen"? The basis of the allegations is that the votes in specific constituencies, counted and publicly declared by returning officers, were subsequently inflated in favour of the NDC at the office of the Electoral Commissioner. The NPP claims that rogue staff at the commission conspired with elements in the NDC to perpetrate this fraud; in figures collected from ten constituencies, the NPP allege Mahama gained over 52,000 extra votes.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the NPP parliamentary candidate for the constituency Dome-Kwbenya, Adwoa Safo, was the first to note the discrepancy between the declared results of the counted votes at her constituency and the results released by the Electoral Commission. It appears that the NPP's case will focus on similar discrepancies across the country, and that the party will make the case that the quantity and spread of these differences across the country affected the overall results.

Significantly, the complaint does not include accusations of registering ghost voters to boost electoral results. It had always been a difficult allegation to prove, but the new biometric voter identification system used in registering, identifying and managing the voting system has now (despite initial technical teething problems) made this form of vote-rigging virtually impossible.

What next?

Ghana remains in suspense over what evidence the NPP has garnered and whether it will be enough to mount a legal challenge. Many are also curious to find out exactly how the NPP came to notice discrepancies. Did Dome-Kwabenya's NPP parliamentary candidate Adwoa Safo really set it all off? Or was it someone else?

Whatever the origins, any allegation that the NDC has attempted to defraud the nation is undeniably very serious. Should the NPP be vindicated, Ghana's status as poster-boy for African democracy could be severely challenged.

Frank Afful is an experienced senior journalist and researcher. He was Editor at PFI Intelligence Bulletin and Managing Editor of politics and business at West Africa Magazine and Africa Weekly. Academically, he has focused on resource law and media communications. His thesis was on the Pan Africa News Agency (PANA). His interests include politics and development economics in Africa, the black Diaspora and the role of media initiatives in Africa.

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