Accra — ...The rise of electoral tourism
The sixth successive presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana may have come and gone but the lessons therein remain.
Although the election had its fair share of controversies, hitches and challenges a host of African countries, who still find it difficult to hold regular, peaceful and credible transition elections, have useful tips to learn from the Ghanaian experience.
Peace as watchword
Arguably, Ghana has emerged as a bastion of democracy in a continent riddled by flawed and violence-laced elections. The moderate West African English-speaking country has also panned out as an oasis of peace. She is surrounded by countries that have fought one civil war or the other with thousands and millions of lives wasted.
The Ghana elections started on a peaceful note. An unexpected heavy shower on Thursday night, in the middle of the dry season, appeared to have prepared the ground for a peaceful outing.
However, the election was not without hitches. Election officials arrived late in some polling booths.
There were also incidents of late arrival of materials, insufficient materials like ink pads, malfunctioning biometric verification machines, inability of some voters to find their names in the voters' list and failure of the biometric machines to confirm some voters. Without being confirmed by the machine, a voter would not be allowed to vote because all the political parties and stakeholders had agreed before the polling to uphold "no verification no voting."
These challenges made voting to start in some of the 26,002 polling stations at about 12 noon on Friday, December 7 for an exercise that was billed to end at 5 p.m. These challenges led to uncertainties and frustration for some affected voters, who came out as early as 2.am to exercise their franchise.
Faced with high-pitch complaints as tension built up in the polity, the Electoral Commission of Ghana (EC) calmed frayed nerves by extending balloting to Saturday, December 8 in 431 constituencies.
Going by the 2012 electoral rules, there were biometric verification of voters, parallel collation of results, announcement of results at the polling booths and transmission of result to EC head office by WAN and Satellite communications.
As the result of the presidential election was being awaited the main opposition party, the New Patriotic Party, NPP alleged that the figures were being 'doctored' in favour of the ruling National Democratic Congress, NDC as they were being transmitted from the 275 constituencies and10 regions of the country to EC office, claiming that it had facts to prove its allegations.
At this stage, efforts were made to prevent the brewing tension from boiling over.
The broadcast media and radio were awash with musicals, jingles and adverts urging Ghanaians to shun violence. Gory pictures of the skirmishes and wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Ivory Coast, etc were shown.
Those aggrieved were enjoined to seek redress through lawful means and shun violence. And in the end, peace prevailed.
The eight presidential candidates had earlier pledged to uphold peace irrespective of who won so that in the end 'Ghana will win.'
Indeed, even though NPP Presidential Candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo who came second by polling 5,248,898 votes (47.74 per cent), has resolved to go to court to challenge the results, the country is at peace. His conqueror, President John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress, NDC, according to the Electoral Commission, EC Chairman, Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, polled 5,574,761 or 50.70 per cent of the valid votes to win the hotly and tightly contested election.
Even prisoners voted
The election had a number of innovations. For instance, 475 prisoners across the country took part in the exercise. It was the first time in the history of Ghana that prisoners were allowed to exercise their fundamental human rights in terms of voting.
Security personnel voted earlier the previous Tuesday. Those who could not vote were allowed to vote on the Election Day proper.
Checking media excesses
The National Media Commission (NMC) and the National Communications Authority set up a joint consultative committee to monitor the broadcast and other electronic media's coverage of the elections and ensure they complied with regulatory and professional standards so as not to heat up the polity with their broadcasts.
The regularity of Ghana polls has made election a revenue earner of sorts for the country, in what is panning out as electoral tourism.
The exercise is so regular that the next election will be staged on December 7, 2016. Before last weekend's exercise, the previous ones were held on December 7, 2008, December 7, 2004 and December 7, 2000, etc.
Unlike other countries of the world, Ghana makes money from the elections. For instance, local and foreign observers including journalists are made to pay for accreditation. About 11,000 observers and journalists were accredited to monitor the last election.
Each of them paid at least six Cedis (about N600) for the accreditation tag and each of those who were accredited by the Ministry of Information paid 106 Cedis (N10,000). In 2004 and 2008 similar fees were charged.
Vanguard learnt that taxi drivers, hotels and other institutions usually prepare adequately for the once in four years ritual, which is helping in no small measure to boost Ghanaian economy. Observers and journalists from Europe, Asia, America, Africa, Commonwealth and West Africa monitored the election.
Attitude of Ghanaian electorate
A major interesting feature is the attitude of the Ghanaian electorate. They turned out en mass for the election. Some of them returned from foreign lands to vote.
Although, there was a public holiday for government workers, most of the citizens shut their businesses for the election.
There was no restriction of movement, people could move from one part of the country to the other in readily available taxis but the people ensured that they voted. Those working in hotels went out early to vote, a major reason that some would-be-voters got to the polling booths as early as 2 a.m.
After casting their votes, some of the voters remained behind to monitor the counting of votes and announcement of results at the polling units. From there, they trooped to the collation centres.
A rare display of vigilance and protection of their votes manifested when some of them on Friday night elected to sleep at the police stations where unused ballots and ballot boxes were kept following the extension of voting in some centres, to ensure the electoral materials were not tampered with. Across the cities, most Ghanaians paid rapt attention to the unfolding electoral events through their radio and TV sets.
Mrs. Clara Cummings, who has a Nigerian father and a Ghanaian mother, on Thursday December 6, left Jos, Nigeria, where she was born, for Accra so that she could vote the following day.
She told Vanguard at the Ringway Estate, Accra polling booth where she queued to vote that she returned home to vote because "Ghana is my motherland and I owe it to my country, Ghana, to participate in this election because every vote counts."
She continued: "We want a better Ghana, which is already peaceful. We want peace, jobs and no violence. We are a very peaceful nation; whoever wins should make it better by creating jobs, attracting visitors and foreign investors.
Ghana should be an example to other African countries. Voting is not necessarily violence. Other countries should learn from Ghana."
At one of the polling booths on Friday morning, former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who led the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Africa Union observer missions was overawed by the attitude of a 82-year old man, who came out as early as 1.a.m to vote. "I am impressed that a man of 82 has come as early as he has come to vote. If there are people, who are still waiting, they should hurry up," he enjoined.
Attitude of police, security agencies
Another interesting feature of the election was the attitude of security agents. The National Elections Security Task Force (NESTF) deployed 41,000 personnel from all security forces to police the polls across the country.
The men were civil in their approach. Except at very strategic locations like the EC's office, most of them were not wielding rifles as if on the warfront.
Corporal W. Takorah, the only police officer overseeing the voting at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Accra, was unarmed as the exercise proceeded peaceful.
Asked why he was unarmed, he said: "I came with a rifle but my officer said no and took it away. He said if there is any trouble, I should call."
Really, the police were within earshot anywhere there was threat of violence. When tension rose in the polity following the EC's delay in announcing the results of the presidential election, they patrolled the streets.
The Ghana 2012 election in figures
* 8 Presidential candidates contested the polls
* 1,332 parliamentary candidates including 126 independents ran for 275 seats
* 24 females won parliamentary seats
* There are 26,002 polling stations
* 14,158,890 registered voters.
* 11,246,982 voters (79.43) voted
* 251,720 votes were invalid
* 10,995,262 votes were valid
* There were 3 Female vice presidential candidates (CPP - Madam Cherita Sarpong, PNC - Madam Helen Sanorita Dzatugbe Matrevi and PPP - Madam Eva Lokko)
* Ghana's estimated population: 24,965,816
*Cost of organising election GH¢243m ($480 m)