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Afari-Gyan writes on changing Ghana’s election date

Dr. Afari Gyan - Electoral Commissioner
Dr. Afari-Gyan - Electoral Commissioner

Much concern has justifiably been expressed about the short transition period between an outgoing and an incoming presidential administration under Ghana’s current electoral arrangements. Indeed, several people have called for a change of the date for holding the presidential and parliamentary elections, so as to achieve a longer transition period.

I wish to offer some thoughts on this subject, but let me say that the views expressed herein are to be attributed to me personally, and not to the Electoral Commission as such.

By our current constitutional arrangements, the President and parliamentarians begin their four-year terms of office on the same day, Janu­ary 7 of the respective year, and end their terms of office at the same time, midnight of January 6 of the respective year. For this reason the date of January 7 may be held to be immutable, in the sense that, both the incoming President and par­liamentarians have to be sworn in on that date in order to avoid a power vacuum – situation where there no President or Parliament.

Against this backdrop, let us examine the constitutional provisions relating first to the presidential and then the parliamentary elections. Article 63 (2) (a) of the Constitution says that in normal times, where a President is in office, the election of the next president “shall be held so as to begin not earlier than four months nor later than one month before his term of office expires.”

To my understanding, if we hold January 7 as immutable, the following facts emerge from this constitutional provision:

– “Not earlier than four months” permits the presidential election to begin as early as Septem­ber 7.

-“Not later than four months” means that the presidential election cannot begin later than Jan­uary 7.

-The framers of the Constitution cannot be blamed for the current short transition period: Evidently they envisaged a more practicable transition period.

If we turn to the parliamentary elections, the relevant constitutional provision is contained in article 112 (4), which says that in normal times”

… a general election of members of Parliament shall be held within 30 days before” the dissolu­tion of Parliament. This provision means that the parliamentary elections cannot be held earlier than December 7.

I suppose we can now clearly see where the problem about a short transition period lies.

While the Constitution permits an incoming President to be elected much earlier than Decem­ber 7, under the current constitutional arrange­ments, that date is the only one that satisfies the joint holding of the presidential and parliamen­tary elections.

In the circumstances, I think two options are open to us for purposes of securing a practicable transition period.

One is to hold the presidential election and the parliamentary elections at different times.

This option entails no change at all in the exist­ing law. It will only mean that the presidential election is held first and the parliamentary elec­tion later.

The second option is to maintain the same­day presidential and parliamentary elections. Holding the two elections on the same day entails much more work for the Electoral Com­mission and its officials, but it has several advan­tages too, including:
. It is less costly, because several activities are done and paid for once instead of twice.

. It makes it unlikely for a major political party to boycott the elections.
. It eliminates the .possibility of a “bandwagon” effect, whereby voters might be inclined to vote for the parliamentary candidates of the party that won the presidential election.

. It has the potential of inducing a high voter turnout and avoiding voter fatigue, particularly in the event of a presidential runoff.

If we opt for same-day presidential and par­liamentary elections, all that needs to be done to secure a longer and more comfortable transition period is to amend article 112(4) of the Consti­tution, which relates to the time for holding the parliamentary elections. For example, if the pro­vision were to be amended to allow the general election of Members of Parliament to be held within two months of the dissolution of Parlia­ment, that would permit the joint elections to be held as from November 7. That would give at least a month of a presidential transitional period, even in the event of a runoff. It may also allow some time for persons who will be going to Par­liament for the first time to prepare themselves to assume office.

While I share the yearning for longer transi­tion period than currently obtains, I am inclined to believe that just as too short a period breeds problems, too long a transition period might also have its problems.

It is to be noted that article 112 (4) of the Con­stitution is not entrenched and can therefore be amended without recourse to a referendum. With the concurrence of Parliament and the Council of State, a change of the election date could be effected in a matter of months, through a bill preferably sponsored by the Executive.

Of course, changing the election date to secure a longer transition period should not fore­stall the need to pass such a transition bill as has been initiated by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) for purposes of securing a well­ ordered transition process.

Source: Daily Graphic

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