A former Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC), Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, has urged the Commission to build consensus on electoral processes with all stakeholders, including the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC), to win the trust of the people.
He said that would ensure transparency and also minimise suspicion and mistrust at every step of the process.
He also underscored the need for the EC to be flexible in the application of electoral rules and regulations, without necessarily bending them.
He said it was prudent for the commission to collaborate with the security agencies and experts to analyse and identify groups and areas prone to violence during elections.
Dr Afari-Gyan was speaking at a ‘Peace Lecture’ organised by the Accra West Rotary Club in Accra last Wednesday.
It was the seventh in series by the Rotary Club aimed at fostering peace and deepening democracy in the country.
The longest-serving chairman of the electoral body spoke on the topic: “Elections and conflicts in emerging democracies”.
Cancellation of votes
Dr Afari-Gyan encouraged the electorate not to entertain any calls for the cancellation of votes in an election decision.
According to him, the cancellation of results was not the right remedy in an election dispute and said arriving at such a decision by a court could jeopardise the peace of the country.
The former EC Chairman said although the court was the right place to resolve electoral conflicts, it was a human institution and might not outrightly get the adjudication of electoral disputes right, as judges might interpret the same law differently.
“In my view, the principle indicates that a duly cast vote is like a sacred cow and cannot be cast away because of the primacy of the voter and, therefore, the sanctity of the vote cannot just be cast away,” he said.
“If this interpretation is correct, then it is just not right for a court to cancel any duly cast vote in an election and then declare a winner if there is a mathematical chance that the cancelled vote can make a difference,” he added.
Dr Afari-Gyan said given that courts had become the last resort for the resolution of political and electoral disputes in emerging democracies, it was important the courts paid sufficient attention to the electoral justice principle of the primacy, as well as the sanctity, of the voter.
He also said the increasing number of election-related disputes that went to court could lead to “the phenomenon known as packing the bench, which may as well be a form of vote buying”.
He called on all stakeholders in the electoral process to comply with the laws of the country to ensure successful elections.
“Let us do what is proper, so that election days will not look like a battle field,” he said.
Causes of disputes
Dr Afari-Gyan cited the demarcation of districts and constituencies, the lack of understanding of some aspects of the electoral process, the use of thugs, unclean campaign practices and the abuse of incumbency as some of the causes of conflicts in an election.
He said while it was not possible to entirely avoid electoral conflicts, certain measures could be instituted to minimise violence.
The Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Mary Chinery-Hesse, who chaired the event, said over 70 million people had been displaced as a result of conflicts, violence and human rights violations, half of which were children.
Conflicts in contemporary democracies were now centred on political, ethnic and religious differences, she said, noting that they had dire economic consequences.
“We have largely adopted reliance on elections for legitimising governance at the national level through the ballot box,” she added.
According to Mrs Chinery-Hesse, electoral conflicts were part of human nature and, therefore, election monitoring bodies should be allowed to enjoy their autonomous mandate to build people’s trust in the electoral process.
The President of the Accra West Rotary Club, Prince Ackuaku, said the club was using the concept of peace with greater cohesion and inclusiveness to encourage people to get involved in peace-building processes.
He said the club’s Peace Fellowship, which began in 2002, had trained more than 1,500 fellows who now worked in over 115 countries.
Mr Ackuaku added that there were seven Rotary Peace centres across the world, where 1,300 fellows had been trained to become effective catalysts for peace through careers in government, education and international organisations.
“Building peace is the development of constructive personal groups and political relationships across ethnic, religions, class, national and racial boundaries.
“Peace-building includes conflict prevention and management, conflict resolution and transformation and post-conflict reconciliation,” he said.