opinionBy Tabitha Mutemi
Ghana held its sixth consecutive elections since its democratic transition in 1992 on December 7, 2012 to elect a president and members of parliament in 275 electoral constituencies. This exercise provides vital lessons for Kenya as we prepare for the first general elections under the new constitution on March 4, 2013.
The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) deployed a 25-member Election Observer Mission to the 2012 Ghana Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. The mission was led by Mr. Ahmed Issack Hassan, the Chairman of the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
The members of the mission were drawn from civil society organisations and electoral management bodies from 13 African countries. While in Ghana, Mr. Hassan met former Ghanaian Presidents John Kufuor and Jerry Rawlings, and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo with whom salient issues regarding the electoral process were discussed. Gen. Obasanjo was the head of the AU and ECOWAS observer mission.
Ghana uses a two-round system for the presidential election and the first-past-the-post system for parliamentary election. Though there were challenges relating to the verification of voters before voting and late delivery of material in some areas, local and international observers concluded that the 2012 Ghana elections met regional, continental and international standards for credible and transparent elections.
According to the IMF Ghana has become the fastest growing economy on the African continent, expanding by 14.4 per cent in 2011, and with a projected growth of 8.2 percent for 2012. The country is also considered a stable and thriving democracy in Africa.
Just like Kenya, significant efforts were made by the Ghanaian electoral stakeholders to improve voter registration through adopting biometric technology in a bid to enhance the credibility and integrity of the voters register.
The 2012 elections were therefore a litmus test on the newly adopted biometric voter registration which produced new voter ID cards.
It was proven that biometric identification gives a lot of credibility to the electoral process. Apart from producing a valid identification document, a voter's finger prints must be accepted by the machine to be allowed to cast a ballot. If the BVR system is successfully executed in Kenya, it will reduce the mistrust and irregularities that have been inherent in the system that we have been using.
In Ghana, voting materials are kept in police stations overnight. The police distribute them in the morning of the elections day without being accompanied by any election official. This may partly have been the reason for late delivery of materials and late opening of polling stations.
There were also reports of machines not working effectively and breakdowns leading to extension of voting to a second day. When all these happened, the patience exhibited by Ghanaians was enviable and quite commendable.
The special voting for Electoral Commission staff and security personnel, who work on voting day, was held three days before polling day. Personnel of the Ghana armed forces, the police service, the immigration service, the customs division, the prisons service and the national fire service also cast an early ballot. This is a good strategy to ensure no citizen is locked out of exercising their democratic right. The cast ballots were kept in police stations until after Election Day when they were to be counted.
On freedom of information and expression, observers noted that there are over 200 radio and TV stations in Ghana which are very independent of the state even though majority are owned by individuals; more so by politicians. Ghanaians have misgivings about them but they say they better be told lies by media houses than be misled or told untruths by politicians.
The media plays a constructive role in educating the citizens on the electoral process. Live debates among parties and candidates on various policy issues were hosted by the various media outlets. The media in Ghana also continued to carryout its duty to inform the electorate on the election results as they were made public by the Electoral Commission. The media reported on the results as reported by the elections officials.
The generally peaceful participation and enthusiasm witnessed among the electorate was very high as it had been predicted to be a close election between Mr. Nana Akufo Addo's -National Patriotic Party (NPP) and President John Dramani Mahama's -National Democratic Congress (NDC). Mr. Mahama was Ghana's Vice-President until the unexpected death of President John Atta Mills in July catapulted him into office. "When you have a very close score, everybody is edgy and nobody wants to give any undue advantage to the other party," said Nigerian Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, a member of the ECOWAS observer monitoring mission, in an interview with Al Jazeera.
There are 14 million registered voters in Ghana, spread across 26,000 polling centres. Some polling stations were on the pavements, roads and even homesteads but the voters were comfortable with this arrangement.
Voter turnout was an impressive 80 percent. That speaks volumes in terms of the citizen's commitment to democracy and Kenyans should emulate this fine example. It is not all about government or the electoral management body but also about how responsive and responsible the people are, which greatly affects the conduct of elections.
The Elections Commission said Mr. Dramani Mahama had secured 50.7% of votes negating the need for a run-off against NPP candidate Nana Akufo-Addo with 47.7% of the votes.
"The electoral commission officially announced the results for the presidential elections on the fifth day (two days before the seven days deadline) yet the people were calm," said the IEBC Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan adding that the maturity of the political leadership and the sense of national patriotism and pride by the people of Ghana indicated that they were keen to maintain the image of their country as a good example in Africa.
Tabitha Mutemi is the communications director at the Independence Electoral and Boundaries Commission.