Friday, 13 May 2016

Commentary on Just Ended Limited Voters’ Registration

The Electoral Commission brought its ten day limited voters' registration exercise to a close May 8. The exercise gave people who have just turned 18 years or those older but could not register previously, the opportunity to register to enable them to exercise their voting rights during the upcoming general election. The exercise was marred with some incidents of violence most of which had to do with the eligibility of some registrants being challenged by the two major political parties, NDC and NPP. There were also issues of low turnout as a result of poor publicity, inadequate registration centres and length of the registration period.

In the first phase of the exercise for instance, there was error on the date in the setup of the registration machine. In fact, even though the exercise started on the 28th of April, the ID cards issued to registrants in two centres on the first day, recorded 27th of April. Though, the Commission explained that the irregularities were due to operators' errors, which were rectified as soon as they were detected, it could be a basis for someone to challenge as the date fell clearly out of the registration period. The biggest issue as far as the registration is concerned is whether or not the commission was able to register all eligible first time voters across the country. It is true that, generally, when there are exercises like this, most Ghanaians wait till the last moments before they rush to participate. While that was the case in a lot of registration centres throughout the country, the situation was different in the campuses of the various tertiary educational institutions. It is baffling that the EC having conducted this exercise for years, failed to take cognizance of the fact that universities and other such higher learning institutions have huge numbers of registrable candidates and make adequate provisions for their registration. It is mind boggling, for instance that the EC set up only one centre at the University of Ghana, Legon where there are at least 20,000 eligible citizens. Is it surprising therefore that the registration officials were overwhelmed by the huge numbers that came to register. Even though the Commission attempted to resolve the challenge by increasing the registration centres, it appeared it came too late in the day to enable all the qualified people to be registered.

Another major issue that came up undoubtedly has to do with alleged registration of non-Ghanaians and minors. There have been allegations and counter allegations and denials, of political parties actively orchestrating the registration of such ineligible persons. This is most regrettable, especially at this moment when there is hullabaloo about the credibility of the current register and calls for it to be validated or scrapped and a new one compiled. Thankfully, there are clear cut guidelines to challenge the registration of such unqualified persons. It may appeared that, some of the agents of the major parties attempted using the laid down procedure but others physically attempted to prevent people they perceived as unqualified from registering. In its report, at the end of the first phase of the exercise, the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers accused some agents of the National Democratic Congress and the New Patriotic Party of abusing the challenge process, thus unduly delaying the registration process.

In the Western region, out of the 49,775 people who registered in the first phase, 415 were challenged. The Northern Region registered more than sixty thousand new voters in the first phase and more than nine hundred of the registrants have been challenged. While it was desirable for the agents to ensure that only eligible people registered, it appeared the two parties were in a competition as to who challenges more. Unfortunately, what they failed to understand is that, they cannot tell for a fact, who those people they challenged, will vote for eventually. After all, voting in Ghana is by secret balloting.

The registration exercise also brought to the fore the need to revamp the National Identification System as well House Numbering. Quite a number of the young applicants had difficulties, showing a proof of citizenship as they do not have the required ID cards. Going forward, the EC will have to analyze the entire exercise and see whether it met its expectations, and take the appropriate decision. In any case, the EC must bear in mind that the right to register and vote, is a fundamental one, and its actions or inactions should not in any way deny any citizen his or her right to vote.


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