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The December 2019 referendum ― How informed are Ghanaians - G.D. Zaney, Esq.

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The referendum will seek the opinion of Ghanaians about whether or not local government elections should be open to partisan political competition.
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A constitutional referendum will be held in Ghana on December 17, 2019, alongside the District Level Elections.

The referendum will seek the opinion of Ghanaians about whether or not local government elections should be open to partisan political competition.

In other words, the referendum is seeking the approval, or otherwise, of Ghanaians to amend Article 55 (3) of the 1992 Republican Constitution of Ghana to allow the introduction of political party participation in the local elections.

Currently, two bills are seeking amendments to Articles 243(1) and 55(3) of the 1992 Constitution for the election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) and the introduction of political party participation in local elections, respectively.

The law, in Article 243 (1) of the 1992 Constitution, says: “243 (1) There shall be a District Chief Executive for every district who shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of not less than two-thirds majority of members of the Assembly present and voting at the meeting.”

When Article 243 (1) is amended, the President will no longer appoint MMDCEs, but the MMDCEs will be elected on non-partisan basis and the electorate will not be required to vote on political party lines.

On the other hand, Article 55 (3) states: “Subject to the provisions of this article, a political party is free to participate in shaping the political will of the people, to disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character and sponsor candidates for elections to any public office other than to District Assemblies or lower local government units.’’

Article 55 (3) provides that political parties should not sponsor candidates on the ticket of their parties at the local government elections.

So that while the amendment of Article 243 (1) will empower the electorate to elect MMDCEs, the referendum will be asking the electorate, exclusively, to decide on the issue of whether or not political parties should determine who should contest as MMDCEs, Assembly Members or Unit Committee Members. In other words, the referendum will be asking the electorate to decide whether or not MMDCEs, Assembly Men and Women and Unit Committee Members should be elected on political party lines.

Why a referendum? One may ask. A referendum because Article 55 is a provision of the 1992 Republican Constitution of Ghana, described as entrenched, and which, therefore, can only be amended through a referendum.

The 1992 Constitution provides guidelines for the amendment of the Constitution under Chapter 25 of the Constitution.

Article 290 (1) (e) states: “290 (1) This article applies to the amendment of the following provisions of this Constitution, which are, in this Constitution, referred to as “entrenched provisions” ―

 (e) Representation of the People: articles 42, 43, 46, 49, 55 and 56.”

Article 290 (2) to 290 (6) provide as follows:

“Article 290 (2) A bill for the amendment of an entrenched provision shall, before Parliament proceeds to consider it, be referred by the Speaker to the Council of State for its advice and the Council of State shall render advice on the bill within thirty days after receiving it.

(3) The bill shall be published in the Gazette but shall not be introduced into Parliament until the expiry of six months after the publication in the Gazette under this clause.

(4) After the bill has been read the first time in Parliament it shall not be proceeded with further unless it has been submitted to a referendum held throughout Ghana and at least forty percent of the persons entitled to vote, voted at the referendum and at least seventy-five percent of the persons who voted cast their votes in favour of the passing of the bill.

(5) Where the bill is approved at the referendum, Parliament shall pass it.

(6) Where a bill for the amendment of an entrenched provision has been passed by Parliament in accordance with this article, the President shall assent to it.”

All processes leading to the amendment of Article 55 (3) have been completed except the referendum.

As already indicated, a bill for the amendment of Article 55 (3) is before Parliament, awaiting passage into law after its approval in a referendum.

And for the referendum to be valid for the bill to be passed into law, a minimum of 40% voter turnout is required under Article 290 (4) while, at least, seventy-five percent of the persons who voted should cast their votes in favour of the passing of the bill.

There is, however, the apprehension of a low voter turnout for this referendum, since it will be conducted together with local government elections which, historically, attract less than 40% of registered voters.

A few questions are, therefore, being asked by stakeholders, namely whether or not the Electoral Commission is adequately prepared to hold the referendum; whether or not there has been sufficient voter education about the voting exercise; and whether or not the electorate understand the purpose of the referendum.

To find answers to these questions, Afrobarometer, which heads a pan-African, non-partisan network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic and related issues across Africa, has conducted a survey.

The survey was conducted under the 2019/2020 Round 8 surveys which are being undertaken in, at least, 35 countries.

The Afrobarometer team in Ghana, led by the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) interviewed 2,400 adult Ghanaians between 16 September and 3 October 2019.

On the Awareness of and preparations for December 2019 referendum, the findings of the survey reveal thatfewer than half (42%) of Ghanaians are aware of the December 2019 referendum on whether local government elections should be made partisan or remain non-partisan; and that among those who are aware of the election, more than half (54%) say the Electoral Commission’s preparations have been satisfactory, with only 18% saying that there has been a lot of education about the referendum.

The survey also reveals  that six in 10 Ghanaians (58%) say they are likely to vote in the December 2019 referendum, while a significant minority (29%) are either not likely to vote or are say they “don’t know.”; and that men and rural residents (65% each) are significantly more likely to say they will vote than women and urban residents (52% each).

The findings, released under the theme: Democracy, Elections and the December 2019 Elections,represent the views of Ghanaians on the December 2019 referendum.

For the Electoral Commission (EC), policy makers and civil society, these findings point to the need for intensified public education on the referendum and the electoral process.

A combined effort of the EC, Commission for Civic Education and the Information Services Department to raise awareness  about the voting exercise and purpose of the referendum is, therefore, very critical at this moment, particularly when only less than half of Ghanaians are aware of this important national exercise―a referendum on whether or not local government elections should be made partisan or remain non-partisan. 

The writer is a Journalist and a Lawyer.

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