Every four years or so, The New Patriotic Party (NPP), and to a lesser extent, the other parties launch themselves into an engineered orgy of turbulence centered on the competition for office within the political space. This maelstrom of contending personal and vested interest has always threatened the cohesion of the party and has affected performance in each impending general election. The election of the polling station executives sometimes turns out to be a dodgy exercise in the selection of people to act in that capacity. The election of Constituency, Regional, National officers on each occasion throws up unsavory antics with all its dangerous posturing.
However, it is the selection or election of parliamentary candidates that pose the most danger to the political order. In some places the contestation becomes so venomous that you may conclude there will be no life after the contest.
Now, I am not here to bash competition as a bad thing in itself. Indeed, a healthy competition provides those properly vested with the rights and authority to make a choice or decision, the necessary information and attributes about each contestant in order to make the right choice or the choice that they deem most suitable for themselves. Without competition or the competitive process, which separates the wheat from the chaff, we end up with impositions that are often ill – advised or ill – situated.
The July 1965 election illustrates this absurdity of non – competitive election.
In May 1965, the Minister of Justice, Mr. K.O. Ofori-Atta introduced the Electoral Provisions Bill in parliament, which outlined the electoral provision of the Constitution’s regulating electoral procedures. In its effect, the Bill sought to implement the new dispensation of one – party state. The muddled thinking that permeated the Bill stemmed from the creation of a single, all – embracing national party on one hand, and the idea of popular representation on the other.
The first provision of the Bill sought to restrict candidates for future presidential election of a president in the event that the election would be contested.
In its un-amended form, Article 11 gave members of parliament the right to determine a contested presidential election by secret ballot.
However, the new Bill provided for only one nominee to stand for a presidential election. Hon. Kofi Baako in a debate on the floor of the House on 18th May 1965 gave the following interpretation to the Bill. “The person who is going to be president will be elected by the national party. So there will be only one person, and it will not be contested”. Simply put, the Convention Peoples’ Party(CPP) had no intention of allowing even rival presidential candidates from within the party to contest, much less independents.
At the level of parliamentary elections, the situation, save a few embarrassing gaps, was repeated.
The Central Committee of the CPP handpicked all the candidates, allowing no others to stand. All were declared to be returned unopposed without even the formality of a vote.
The bizarre aspect of this process was that it allowed the Central Committee to assign persons who became automatic MPs to any constituency they so chose. So for example, Kwesi Ghapson, a lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah Ideology Institute at Winneba and a man from the Central Region was assigned to become the MP for Abuakwa in the Eastern Region. He did not come from Abuakwa. He did not hail from Abuakwa. He was not a resident of Abuakwa. He had no connection whatsoever with Abuakwa, yet he had been selected, without the remotest consent of the people of Abuakwa, to become their representative. So how on earth could he have represented a people he was not connected to and a land that was “alien” to him? If the people of Abuakwa were unhappy with his performance as their MP, what were they to do? Under this “forced” representation, the only contribution he is reported to have made on the floor of the House, as the Honorable member representing Abuakwa was, “when Osagyefo is speaking, everyone says ‘yea’, ‘yea’. Are they sincere? I, Kwesi Ghapson, the member for Kibi, am not sincere. All of us are not sincere because we says yes, even when we mean no.” The import of the above is that the CPP had spawned a system and an environment that created “yes men” and hypocrites who knew how their bread was buttered.
The point is, we have been down this path before and the outcome for the CPP and the nation was an unmitigated disaster. We as NPP have also been down this path in 2008, as a result of which, 18 deeply dissatisfied candidates who had been disqualified contested as independent Candidates. While it is true that only one of them, Hon. Joe Osei-Owusu, now Honorable member for Bekwai and 1st Deputy Speaker of Parliament won his seat as an independent candidate, the noise, the discontent and consternation it stirred within the party took its toll on our votes in Ashanti. Is this an experience we want to repeat in 2020? I doubt it. I seriously doubt it.
I believe in the common sense of our members who by our party constitution are constituted into our internal electoral college. Given the unfettered chance, they will act in our enlightened self-interest and elect candidates who they believe will serve our interests.
They may, like every human institution and arrangements, not get it right all the time, but that is in the nature of choice.
I am also not arguing that a negotiated outcome is a bad thing and does not produce good result. The operative word is ‘negotiated’. It behooves the leaders of the party to convince constituents that given certain factors, variables and local dynamics, a negotiated outcome in a particular location or instance may produce a better outcome than a competitive process. Again we have been there before.
The prelude to the 1969 general election saw many of such negotiated outcomes under the leadership of professor Kofi Abrefa Busia. These negotiations led to people like J H Mensah, T.K. Aboagye and R.R. Amponsah emerging as a parliamentary candidate. My own late father, Kwasi Agyarko gave up his interest in Manhyia for the younger Dr Kwame Safo-Adu. There was an even more interesting case in Kwabre constituency. The primaries had been held with the following ordinal outcome; Mr. Yeboah, Kwame Boakye, Akenten Appiah-Menkah and Alhaji Osei. Mr. Yeboah died before the general election. One would have expected Kwame Boakye to step to the plate as a candidate. However, he was a very young man recently out of school and the party leadership called him in to pause for a better time, when he would have been sufficiently groomed to take his place. Akenten Appiah-Menkah, who placed third in the primaries was called upon to fill the vacancy Mr. Yeboah’s death had created.
What people resent is the emerging authoritarian streak that suggest to our people on the ground that we can ride rough shod over them and do as we please. No sir! These are the children and descendants of a fighting tradition, but they are also very amenable to reason. We gain absolutely nothing from an authoritarian posture. If we are unable to negotiate an outcome, then let competition decide and let the best candidate win.
The key element that leads to a successful outcome in negotiations is the belief by all parties that it is being done in good faith and for the collective good, and not in the narrow interest of particular persons or vested interests. We as a party cannot continue to tred this slippery slope. So, going forward we ought to do things a lot differently.
Here are a few suggestions;
First, we must introduce on-line filling of forms to cut out this rat race of some assuming powers not vested in them as to who gets a form. It is not within their province to determine. Getting a form does not automatically make one a candidate. It is merely an expression of interest. There are subsequent constitutionally mandated processes to determine who becomes a candidate. We cannot by any means or the stretch of our imagination, take away the rightful authority to determine who becomes a candidate from our delegates.
Second, we must infuse the vetting process with substance and consistency across board. The party must come up with standard questions that all prospective candidates must face in addition to the follow-up questions and other discretionary question that must aim at establishing the bona fides and the qualitative substance of applicants. Then there is the legitimate question of an applicant’s contribution to the constituency in the last 2 years. To begin with I think there ought to be a list of qualified contribution and that can count for an applicant’s contribution to nurturing the constituency and these must not be defined only in cash terms. There are lots of party people who devote themselves and their time in the service of our party at the constituency, regional and national levels. All these must count for something. How about extending the 2 years to 5 or 10 years in order to get longer term commitments to the party, and eliminate the fly-by-night prospects who may see the 2 years as bearable enough to wager their bet. The quality of the vetting panels also needs to be worked on.
Third, what kind of attributes and standards do we want to see in our MPs as representatives of our party. What we ought to consider doing is to first qualify prospective and interested applicants at the national level even before they are allowed to go down to the constituency level. We can apply a rigorous but standardized criteria to qualify people in search of the political quality and commitment we seek in our MPs. After making the national candidates’ list, they are then free to look to marketing themselves at the constituency level.
Fourth, there is wisdom and merit in offering safeguard to our sitting MPs. This cannot be done in current fashion where we introduce contorted rules and interpretation of rules at the very last minute and either hope to muddle or bulldoze our way through. We are better than that. So here are some options we might want to consider. We could make a rule that says that the seat of our first time MPs are off limit and not open for contest, unless that MP has done something most untoward that most of us frown upon and desire his or her removal. We could put such a rule in now with a sunrise date of say 2028. Such a sunrise clause will give people sufficient time to adjust their plans and expectations. We could also put in a second rule that say that, the seat for sitting MP’s who register an increase in the party’s presidential vote over the previous elections by a minimum of 5% are also not open to contest. This could provide a significant boost to the general efforts of winning elections. This will provide a powerful incentive for sitting MP’s toward maximizing the presidential votes which is what count in forming government. This could also have a sunrise clause that is triggered in say 2028 to allow people sufficient time to adjust their expectations as to how the facts on the grounds speak to them.
One thing that has become evident in the latest round of primaries is that things are not working the way we envisaged either because of internal inconsistencies in our rules and regulations or that the system is open to too much manipulation. Whatever it is, we cannot continue down these slippery slopes.
Long live the Danquah- Busia- Dombo Tradition
Long live the New Patriotic Party
Long live Ghana