A Senior Lecturer at the Political Science Department of the University of Ghana, Legon, Professor Ransford Gyampo, has stated that the interest of the citizenry must be of paramount concern in the discourse on the compilation of a new register.
That, he explained, was because the coronavirus (COVID-19) scourge was still a major threat to the safety of the masses.
In an interview with the Daily Graphic last Monday on the brouhaha surrounding the decision of the EC to compile a new register for the December 7, 2020 general election, Prof. Gyampo observed that Ghanaians would not be willing to compromise their safety and turn out in their numbers to register for the election for fear of contracting the virus.
He pointed out that the fact that traders had disregarded the protocols on social distancing and went about their activities in the markets was not a guarantee that Ghanaians would do so for the sake of the voters register.
“The fact that large numbers of Ghanaians were found on the streets and at the markets during our partial lockdown does not necessarily mean people may turn out to register. What pushed people into defying the fear of contracting COVID-19 during the partial lockdown were purely economic reasons. Unless we share money at the various registration centres, there will be no direct economic variables that will make people defy the fear of contracting COVID-19 to go and register,” he said.
Prof. Gyampo, therefore, underscored the need for citizens’ voices to be taken into consideration in making a firm decision on the compilation of a new voters register.
“The argument and public discourse on whether we need a new voters register or not should not be myopic from the perspectives of only the Electoral Commission (EC), the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP),” he said.
He stressed that although the EC had the constitutional mandate to conduct elections, with political parties as the major players, the decision to compile a new register must be in the larger interest of the citizenry.
“The independence of the EC in going about its activities cannot be asserted without a prepared and cooperative citizenry. Similarly, political parties will exist merely in names without citizens,” he argued.
The idea of the compilation of a new register for this year’s election has opened a can of worms and pitched the EC against the NDC and some political parties who hold the view that there is no need for a new register when the current one has no major defects and credibility issues.
They are joined in that position by a coalition of 18 civil society organisations (CSOs) who have also made a case that the compilation of a new register will be a drain on the national coffers, especially when in their view the current register can be used for the conduct of the elections.
The NPP and a number of political parties have also held the same view with the EC that there is the need for a new register because the current one has credibility issues, including it being bloated.
Threat to democracy
Prof. Gyampo said the essence of democracy would likely be defeated if the new register was compiled in an atmosphere that would not be favourable for eligible Ghanaians to participate in the process.
“One fundamental test of democratic consolidation is the extent to which the citizenry turn out for such important democratic exercises, like voter registration and voting. Any election with a severely under-patronised voter register may lead to an illegitimate verdict and an outcome that cannot be described as reflecting popular choice,” he stressed.
He added that although some “die-hard” party supporters would defy the risks and turn up to register, the country risked going into an election without the full complement of the voter population.
“It is, therefore, an exercise in futility for us to debate the proposed compilation of a new register without first being sure as to whether those expected to register are really going to show up to register,” he said.