In a few weeks’ time Ghanaians will vote in a referendum to determine whether elections to local government bodies should be on a partisan basis and, frankly, I am perplexed at the way things are turning out for the ballot. One would have thought that the nation would embrace the opportunity to extend our democratic practice through political parties to the grass roots. It comes as a shock to see, read and hear people expressing very negative ideas about this possibility.

The New Patriotic Party has accused the opposition National Democratic Congress of a “breach of faith”. The attack follows the NDC’s sudden shift of position on the December 17 referendum on electing metropolitan, municipal and district chief executives (MMDCEs) and assembly members along partisan lines.

The political parties and leading stakeholders had reached a consensus on the matter but the NDC decided to depart from the agreed line last week.

Addressing a press conference yesterday, the NPP’s general secretary, John Boadu, described as “hypocritical” the NDC’s announcement of its decision to campaign for a No vote in the upcoming referendum to amend Article 55 (3) of the constitution.

According to Mr Boadu, the NDC had been co-operating constructively with the government, in Parliament and elsewhere, as well as with the governing NPP, other political parties, the Electoral Commission, faith-based organisations, traditional rulers, civil society organisations and other interest groups to pursue success for the Yes vote in the referendum. But it suddenly decided to backtrack.

The NPP is surprised by the U-turn, Mr Boadu said, barely five weeks to the referendum. He described the opposition party’s action as “nothing else but an unpatriotic betrayal of the Ghanaian people”.

Not trustworthy

The NPP general secretary expressed dismay at the NDC’s conduct. In all the consultative engagements with civil society organisations in the past year and a half, and particularly with the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG) and Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), the NDC has never given any hint of being fundamentally against electing local government-level officials on a partisan basis, he said.

“We are curious to know why, after making declarations at national and public fora and engagements ‒ including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, several forums organised by civil society organisations, particularly IDEG, the launch by the CSOs Coalition, the launch of the Citizens’ Education and Awareness-Raising Campaign by the National Commission for Civic Education and the Information Services Department … ‒ the NDC is now going back on its word and pledge.

“It is noteworthy that in all these engagements, the NDC, just like the NPP and the other parties, made its position very clear, to the effect that they were for the introduction of a multiparty contest at the local government level and that they were willing and ready to get their supporters to campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum,” he said.
Aside from that, Mr Boadu said, the NDC had participated in all ten regional and national consultations on the referendum conducted by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development in 2018.

At these meetings, the party maintained its position that it was in support of amendment of Article 55 (3), he added, “And so it is curious that the party is now reneging on its position to the detriment of the nation.”

Captured in Hansard

The NPP general secretary said that up until now, leaders of the NDC Minority in Parliament, including the leadership, have been working in close collaboration with their Majority counterparts to amend non-entrenched constitutional provisions relating to the position of MMDCEs, so as to make this open to election even before the referendum. The aim was to strengthen the case for an overwhelming Yes vote on December 17, Mr Boadu said.

He cited instances where leading NDC MPs, during the second reading of the amendment bill on July 29 2019, had expressed support for the election of MMDCEs on a partisan basis, as captured by Hansard.

He mentioned an instance where the Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, called for amendment of the constitution to allow for popular election of MMDCEs in line with principles of partisanship.

“The support of those of us on this side of the House is conditional to the fact [sic] that DCEs should be elected, but they should be elected on partisan lines. This is the principle we would support and walk with,” Mr Boadu quoted Mr Iddrisu as saying.
The NPP top executive also mentioned the likes of Mahama Ayariga, the MP for Bawku Central, Alhaji Mubarak Muntaka, Minority Chief Whip and MP for Asawase, and Alhaji A B A Fuseini, MP for Sagnarigu, as some of the NDC members who threw their weight behind the amendment to allow for election of all local-level officials on a partisan basis.

Ignore the pro-No noise

The NPP secretary called on all patriotic citizens, including followers of the NDC and other opposition parties, to ignore the No campaign being run by a small group of NDC leaders.

He particularly urged them to work for a resounding turnout and endorsement of the Yes option in the referendum, and so help to introduce multiparty democracy at the district level.