Speakers at an election forum have said ordinary Ghanaian citizens will hold the key to the credibility of the elections on December 7, 2008.
They said the involvement of citizens in the electoral processes, their active participation in ensuring that all parties played by the rules would guarantee the success of the elections next week.
The Citizens’ Public Forum was organised by the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG) in collaboration with the Royal Netherlands Embassy and Joy FM on the topic “Disputed Elections and thier Consequencies in Kenya and Nigeria: Lessons for Ghana.”
The Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja, Nigeria, Dr Jibrin Ibrahim, a lecturer at the Department of Gender and Development at the Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya, Dr Grace Wamue and the Head of Conflict Prevention, Managment & Resolution of the Kofi Anan International Peacekeeping and Training Centre (KAIPTC), Dr Kwesi Aning all showed how citizens could successfully enhance or mar the electoral process.
Dr Ibrahim, who is also a member of President Umaru Yar'Adua’s Electoral Reform Committee set up last year, was of the view that Ghana’s electoral processes and systems had all the elements necesary for a free and fair election.
His reason was that Ghanaians had a high level of civic conciousness, the Electoral Commmission (EC) was non-partisan and independent, there was an established “state of the art” election rules and procedures, that included the use of tranparent ballot boxes and photo identification cards and the country had polished up the technicalities and knowledge of election administeration, management and organsation.
In comparison, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was partisan and had for the past nine years, endeavoured mar elections in Nigeria.
Dr Ibrahim recounted several instances where Nigerians had been provoked by INEC by their inaction or action.
For instance, while the law mandated a continous registration exercise, INEC failed to do that and only did that at the last moment in 2003 resulting in a register that was “very, very incomplete.”
Dr Ibrahim said in the face of such provocation, the citizens of Nigeria acted in accordance with their commitment to democratic values.
He, therefore, prescribed the same attitude for Ghanaians, asking all to be resolute in their commitment to democratic values, active participants in the electoral system and process and vigilant observers to ensure the right things were done particularly when state institutions charged with that responisbility were not living up to it.
Dr Wamue, introduced her presentation with a some images of the mayhem in Kenya in the aftermath of the December 2007 elections.
She said the power of the presidency in Kenya with widely held sentiments of patronage if a president came from one’s tribe or ethnicity and the partisan stance of security agencies were all factors in the mayhem.
The institutionalisation of violence over time in Kenya through the encouragement of militias and gangs and the steroetyping of people of different ethnic backgrounds was also listed as causative factors.
Dr Wamue said for all the main political figures vying for power winning in the election was sure, and their sentiments were encouraged by opinion polls.
The media also played a great role in propagating hate speech and heightening tension, a situation also evident in religious circles.
Dr Wamue said politicians had to realise that attaining political power was attainining the mantle of service and not an opportunity to public wealth, while the media had to be circumspect in their reporting with the realisaton that the country came first rather than profit margins.
Dr Aning in his presentation linked some factors prior to the disputed elections in the two countries with some current trends in the country.
He said the existence of “macho men,” and “land guards,” that most Ghanaians resorted to for the protection of their lives and property was an outrage.
He said the loss of credibility in the police in some areas, resulting in the creation of groups like “the Azuka Boys” and the “khandaha boys,” were things that needed to be challenged.
Dr Aning called for a culture of continous criticism on lapses in democratic institutions and systems to ensure a truly democratic state.
A former National Security Coordinator, Mr Kofi Bentum Quantson, who chaired the function said the seeds of disputed elections were sown long before the actual election.
He said it was time for a comprehensive rethinking of wide range of issues with the potential of social and political tension.