The voters’ register and Ghana’s partisan hypocrisy: My way or the highway Featured

By By Kwadwo Afari January 21, 2020 1363 46 comments

A steady stream of abuse takes our democracy, always, to within mere inches from the edge of the precipice.

I am very much concerned about the apocalyptic language, threats and vituperation from certain individuals and political parties as the 2020 general election draws nearer. I cannot help but ask whether the compilation of a new voters’ register could be the next big, complicated disaster in our country, so big that its ramifications could be heard in the uttermost parts of the world? It is interesting to note that some politicians are trying to engineer it as such.

The atmosphere of suspicion and the distrust of intentions and every move by the Electoral Commission and other institutions of state whenever there is an election are nothing new. This time around, however, the reasons against compiling a new register, and the threats of fire and brimstone and boycotts, smack of hypocrisy. Most Ghanaians admit the statistically unacceptable nature of the register, so why would any sane person with good intentions oppose compiling a new roll?

Bloated and dirty

Simply put, the current voters’ register is bloated, with multiple registrations and names of minors, non-Ghanaians and dead people, none of whom is eligible to register to vote. No other person than Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, a former chairman of the EC and a man respected all over the world, agreed to maintain this register.

That alone presents a genuine case for compiling a new register. However, it seems our politicians and critics have become unable to rouse themselves to discuss the merits of a clean electoral roll. Reform opponents’ failure to accept the defects of the current register just because it has been used recently is childish at best.

We accept the rights of those who oppose moves to compile a new register. What is not acceptable is the language and threats, with predictions of an Arab Spring-type crisis crushing our democratic prospects. A bloated register presents a fundamental crisis for our democracy. It puts our liberty and system of governance at risk.

The real crisis is when some of our politicians and academics fail to focus on the routine demands of governance in a multiparty democracy, or on the longer-term preconditions for a thriving democratic society. The perverse and frenzied myopia – call it hell-mongering – and end-of-the-world rhetoric stand in the way of a functioning Ghanaian politics and make it hard to debate practical solutions and incremental improvements. The sad thing about the opponents is that, to them, there is no middle ground between the catastrophic and the lackadaisical.

At the other end of the spectrum, the view is that any opposition to a new voters’ register is an attempt to commit voter fraud. One voter (name withheld) says the stakes could not be higher. “A bloated and dirty register is a threat to our democracy and liberty. Our democracy is what is at stake,” he insists.

Apocalypse now

Of course, since the 1992 election, the same kind of apocalyptic rhetoric has emanated from both sides of the aisle. A steady stream of abuse takes our democracy, always, to within mere inches from the edge of the precipice.

The present street protests and rhetoric simply deepen partisan polarisation, tribal fragmentation and widespread mistrust.

The rush to apocalyptic rhetoric is both a cause and an effect of the paralysing polarisation of our politics. It is a way to sustain the partisan intensity and justify the outrageous levels of mutual animosity required to keep all arguments at fever pitch as we seek power. Almost all of us fall into it sometimes. We forget the need to remove from serious debate the pettiness, partisanship and dogma. These things easily stop us from making the right decisions.

The call for compilation or the opposition to a new register are obviously not cause to celebrate any short-lived victory. A clean register is not about a single party. It should not be about the fortunes of one party in one election. A clean voters’ register is about a democratic Ghana. A clean voters’ register serves to constrain the theft of our voice and limit corruption by powerful individuals, self-seeking groups and their allies. What opponents of the attempt to compile a clean register should remember is that elections are not a show to impress outsiders or crack opponents, whether actual or potential. It is about choice and the right to choose leaders without any form of fraud.

And because our debate often is not substantive but emotional, not about policy but about tribe, not about winning fairly but about winning by all means possible, we convince ourselves that rule by the other party would surely lead to utter ruin, which requires us to raise the stakes for every political decision point beyond all bounds. Such logic merely serves as an argument for suspending the usual rules and norms. If the fate of everything we care about hinges on winning in one round only, surely there will be no time for bargaining, compromise or incrementalism.

We need to worry about the grim state of our country when we make it impossible to address our problems as mature people, capable of ruling ourselves. If the only way we can prompt ourselves to act politically is by talking ourselves into a panic, we will never see problems as they are, we will never stop looking ridiculous and/or menacing to people who do not share our political premises, and we will never build the coalitions required to make modest improvements. A politics of panic is devoid of prudence and proportion, which ultimately means it is devoid of leadership and responsibility.

Modest gains

The decay of our core political institutions, and especially the lack of depth in our parties, contributes mightily to this condition. Our partisanship leaves us with no established paths and processes for driving durable accommodation and no incentive to broaden coalitions rather than sharpen factions. We all should, and can, try to think about our challenges in properly political terms. Some rare issues are really about the most fundamental things, so that no prudential compromise is possible. However, most debates are not, and a failure to tell the difference is a failure of leadership.

Rather than think about elections and political debates primarily as ways of winning, we should strive to think of them as ways of pursuing modest improvements. Rather than looking at our political choices as matters of life and death, we should try to see them as matters of better or worse. When we are tempted to think of a political dispute as all-or-nothing, we should force ourselves to wonder what partial victory might look like.

This argues for some adjustment in our disposition and expectations. It would involve lowering the political stakes and temperature a little, and appreciating the resources, the strengths, the spirit our society has, as well as the challenges it faces. Such a change in attitude would not imply not worrying about our problems. On the contrary, it would entail learning how to worry properly: without panicking, and in a way that enables us to act to improve things over time. If in the process we come to think that a clean voters’ register may not be the be all and end all of life in a free society, that would be all the better.

However, while we are fascinated and bedevilled by this endless opposition to change, we should not forget that change is the only constant. We should also remind ourselves that as the days go by, we are heading toward the ultimate crisis: December 7 2020, Election Day – less than 11 months from now. On that day your future, my future, our children’s future and the future of our country will be decided, for better or worse, perhaps for generations to come.

There is nothing wrong when politicians start behaving like children, but when they start to suggest that a clean voters’ register is a force for bad, it goes beyond insane. It becomes evil.


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Last modified on Tuesday, 21 January 2020 12:14

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