The Electoral Commission’s (EC’s) directive to the country’s political parties to have offices in two-thirds of the administrative districts of the country by May 31, 2016 or risk a ban has irked some of the smaller parties.
With 12 days to the deadline, the smaller parties are girding their loins for a showdown with the election management body.
The EC’s Inter Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) meeting today is expected to witness hot exchanges on the issue, as some of the smaller parties face the possibility of losing their certificates of existence.
Section 9(c) of the Political Parties Law, Act 574 (2000) puts a responsibility on parties to ensure that they have branches in all the regions and “in addition organised in not less than two-thirds of the districts in each region”.
According to a 2013 report of the EC, out of the 23 registered political parties, only the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) met the physical presence requirement.
Presently, there are 26 registered political parties.
Ideally, a party must meet the threshold of having 144 district offices out of the 216 used for the purpose of the report.
However, from that report released last year, the NPP led the parties with the highest number of offices with 200, followed by the NDC with 195.
The Progressive People’s Party (PPP) had 68; the People’s National Convention (PNC) 29, the Great Consolidated Popular Party (GCPP) two.
The report found a trend where some offices alleged to belong to some parties were not even painted in the colours of those parties.
But the small political parties, including the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the PNC, have accused the EC of being out of touch with reality.
Rallying the smaller parties to prevent the EC from going ahead with its order, the flag bearer of the NDP, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, accused the EC of misinterpreting the law.
“The Constitution is talking about areas of meetings and convergence. It doesn’t say strictly that you should have an office in every district but that you should show a presence,” she said.
“For the Electoral Commissioner to write to parties that by May 31, 2016 if you don’t have two thirds of your offices she’s going to ban you from operating is unacceptable, more especially in this day of virtual offices,” Nana Konadu said on Citi FM.
The Chairman of the PNC, Mr Bernard Mornah, expressed a similar sentiment.
“As we speak, I’m not close to the party office, the General Secretary is not close and the National Organiser is not there, but we had meetings on phone and discussed matters and kept minutes of our discussions. So modern ways of doing things do not mean there should be a physical location for an office.
If you go round some of the places we call offices, we don’t do anything there; we just paint some places, pay rent and there is nobody there.
“If you talk about an office, it should be a place where you can have office fittings and furniture, but, unfortunately, if you go to the place we call offices, the best you can see is that they are painted in our colours. Beyond that not even a table, let alone a chair. What are we pretending about? Who are we deceiving?” he told Joy News.
The Chairman of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), Prof. Edmund Delle, was, however, moderate, as he advocated a dialogue.
He said the smaller parties were also contributing their quota to the development of the country’s democracy and so any attempt to ban them would further strengthen the NDC and the NPP duopoly.
A former Director of Elections at the EC, Mr Albert K. Arhin, believed that the EC had even been lenient, as it should have enforced the law long ago.
According to him, the essence of the law was for the political parties to be national in character and not be regional or religious based.
He was, however, quick to add that the parties could sit with the EC to amend the law to reflect the modern trend they were advocating.
“They should sit down with the commission to get the law amended to fit the modern trend.
“The law has not been changed and if the EC is interpreting it as it is in our books, then it has the right to do that,” he stated.
EC is right
For his part, a Senior Lecturer at the Political Science Department of the University of Ghana, Dr Evans Aggrey-Darko, told the Daily Graphic that the EC’s decision was in the right direction.
According to him, although “the Constitution provides for freedom of association, I believe the political parties must portray a national character and be visible in all the regions”.
“We have about 25 political parties, out of which only six are active in the entire country. The EC’s intention may be late, but it is better late than never,” he stressed.