My humble opinion on election 2020 amid COVID-19
December 7, 2020, is a very important date in the governance processes in our country called Ghana. It is very important because it is the date for the election of members of the Legislature and the President and for that matter the Executive arm of government, in any election year.
The constitution makes that date sacrosanct and until what is enshrined in the constitution is changed, nothing can be done about it and, therefore, come rain or shine; elections must be conducted on December 7, 2020.
This, therefore, places an onerous responsibility on the Electoral Commission (EC), the government, civil society and all other stakeholders including the electorate.
Since the conduct of elections on December 7, this year is given, all stakeholders are faced with a serious challenge, in that we are not in normal times.
The COVID-19 has created an environment which makes the smooth running of the electoral process very problematic. In normal times, electoral processes have generated a lot of tension and there have been occasions where disturbances have occurred at registration centres.
Delays have resulted which had in the past created unnecessary tension in the country with political parties having a go at each other and at the EC.
Going into the elections some political parties are of the view that the decision of the EC to compile a new voters’ register is not necessary and that the EC must, therefore, quash that idea.
The ruling government on the other hand is of the view that the electoral register as currently constituted, is not credible since there is credible evidence that the cleaning ordered by the Supreme Court has not been effectively done.
Given this scenario, the only way out is for the EC which is the arbiter, to take its own decision and so it has decided to compile a new voters’ register and all stakeholders must support it(EC).
However, if we go along with the decision of the EC, a concern raised by those opposed to the compilation of a new voters’ register is brought into sharp focus.
Given the mode of infection of the COVID-19 virus, the issue of increase in the infection rate due to more people being brought together at the registration centres cannot be overlooked.
In the same vein, given our past experience of how passionate people are on the day of election, the possibility of a huge number of people being infected cannot be glossed over.
This brings us in a quandary as a nation and the phrase of the renown poet Shakespeare, in the book ‘Hamlet’ “to be or not to be, that is the question” aptly fits our current situation.
The devastation of economies and the havoc COVID-19 has wreaked on individual lives across the world is nothing to be toyed with. The consequences that further infection can wreak on the nation give cause for concern and so if that likelihood exists, then there is the need to look at various options to prevent its occurrence.
What must be noted is that any attempt to change the date of the election would require a change in the constitution to enable the EC to act accordingly without flouting any laws.
The first option available to the EC is to postpone the elections so that the concerns of those opposed to the compilation of a new voters’ register based on the view that there is the likelihood of the spread of COVID-19 can be addressed.
In order to be able to do this, the constitution has to be amended to give the EC the power and the lawful authority to execute same. When the elections are postponed, there must be amendment of other provisions to prevent a vacuum being created because under the current constitution, the term of the president expires after midnight of January 6, 2021.
Postponing the election, therefore, would have to be looked at in terms of the feasibility of amending the constitution within the next five months to prevent a constitutional crisis.
Former President Kuffour started a discussion on the term of office of presidents being revised upwards to at least five years instead of the current four years.
Currently, that idea is gaining momentum and there have been talks about amending the term of office of the president and maybe this COVID-19 and the challenges of the compilation of a new register, provides us with an opportunity to amend the constitution to facilitate the implementation of this idea. This would definitely help in reducing expenditure on elections which also affects the inflation rate especially during an election year which ultimately affects the quality of life of the larger populace.
The EC has an opportunity to make a strong case to Parliament and the Judiciary as well as the Executive that it needs time to conduct COVID-19 risk free elections and ask for a stakeholders’ discussion on the issues involved in such a decision.
Another issue raised by those who are advocating abolition of the idea of a compilation of a new register is cost that would be incurred compared with the use of the current register.
The use of the current voters’ register would definitely reduce the expenditure on elections but the EC would still have to conduct limited registration. The limited registration would involve people queuing to go through registration process and the risk of infection would be present although at a reduced level.
The thing is that one life lost through COVID-19 is one too many and, therefore, if there is the risk of infection in the conduct of registration, then we must as well postpone it altogether.
Those who are claiming that it is unnecessary for a compilation of a new voters’ register and that only limited registration is required, has a point, but they should realise that it would also provide a risk of infection although on a limited scale compared with a mass compilation.
Whether limited or mass, the risk of infection on Election Day, is still awaiting us and it is time we all examined the issue and took a decision that would be beneficial to all of us. The only time the risk of infection would be absent is when a vaccine for the disease is found.
I hope that those who are using the argument of the risk of COVID-19 infection would agree to the amendment of the constitution to extend the term of office for the president since it is envisaged that the earliest time a vaccine could be obtained is towards the end of 2021.
In order to resolve the disagreements among the political parties regarding the credibility of the voters’ register, the only way out is for a collaboration between the EC and the NIA so that the Commission can compile its register by selecting those who are 18 and above and are Ghanaians and are of sound mind. There would be no more arguments about the register and the cost of compilation would be minimal not to mention the absence of political tension.
Given the time left between now and the elections, this collaboration would have to be done in future and so all of us either support the EC to carry out a compilation of a new register or postpone the elections by amending the constitution.