One of the reasons why it makes sense to elect MMDCEs in the same manner Assembly Members are presently elected is that the communities from which they are elected will feel empowered and embolden to participate in the decision-making processes in the local area. This will however not happen if MMDCEs and Assembly Members are elected on POLITICAL PARTY TICKETS for the following reasons:
1. Our experience in Ghana since independence has shown that parties have the tendency to reward only those who subscribe to their membership. In fact, this is actually how we have set up our democracy to reward at the national level so it comes at no surprise. But we have had reason to complain about its exclusionary tendencies.
Thus, if MMDDCEs AND assembly members are elected on partisan lines, conventional expectations of party solidarity and discipline will compel them to push contracts and businesses only to those with whom they share the same party membership. In such a situation, merit and competence, which are some of the reasons our current local level politics is non-partisan will be sacrificed and meaningful progress in the District will suffer.
2. If you can imagine that after the 2016 elections the government under the guise of various reforms have closed down radio stations, banks and other financial institutions known to belong mostly to persons who are perceived to be sympathetic to other political parties, you can then foretell what kiosks, stores, market allocations, and businesses that belong to people who do not belong to the elected MMDCEs and Assembly Members’ party will suffer at the local level.
It is therefore possible that when MMDCEs are elected on the ticket of political parties, they will carry out vengeance in various forms against people perceived to belong to other political parties.
3. In the current dispensation where MMDCEs are appointed by a sitting President, we often hear of wanton abuse of power by such appointees at the local level. Such abuses take the form of misappropriation of funds, use of public funds for partisan purposes, hiring of family and party cronies into sensitive public offices, disregard for official procedures and processes, and fragrant violation of human rights among others. There is no guarantee that electing MMDCEs on party tickets will stop these abuses, in fact evidence points to the contrary, that electing MMDCEs on party lines will embolden such anti-democratic practices.
4. Once we begin electing MMDCEs along party lines, we should expect that the needs of the local people would be subordinated to the whims and caprices of party bigwigs at the center who will be interested in manipulating internal rules to favour their preferred candidates and in the process leave local communities in our Districts voiceless, powerless, and frustrated.
5. Competitive partisan elections breed rancor, acrimony, animosity and divisiveness, and the experience of electoral violence in Ghana so far has shown that all of them occurred in the context of partisan election.
In contrast, the current non-party Assembly Membership elections are known to have generated no violence and animosity on the scale witnessed on account of partisan elections. Partisan elections of MMDCEs and Assembly Members will ferment new tensions and divisions that will undermine development in our Districts.
6. Partisan election of MMDCEs and Assembly Members will result in ethnic mobilization in our districts in a manner that undermines peaceful coexistence in our Districts. As our national experience has shown, partisan politics often rally support of ethnicities in a manner that sets one group up against another, therefore introducing it at the local level will not only be volatile and explosive, it will also degenerate into producing needless multiple inter-ethnic conflicts across the country.
7. Under a decentralized system of governance where Assembly members and MMDCEs are elected on partisan basis, minority ethnic groups would have good reasons to feel threatened especially when and where political differences align with ethnic differences in a District. Introducing partisan elections at the District level can push various ethnic groups in our Districts into a “We” versus “Them” categories and plugin needless ethnic suspicions and tensions in communities that hitherto view the world through peaceful coexistence.
8. It is dangerous to subordinate the entire Ghanaian political system at all levels to the political parties. By the nature of modern political parties, most decent and party-shy individuals who passionately want to offer their expertise and skills in public service without necessarily being labeled as belonging to a political party or being partisan are prevented from doing so.
It is not everyone who wants to devote their time and talent to the nation, that wish to do so on the platform of political parties. Therefore, safeguarding our Districts from the incursions of political parties will provide some space in our political system for individuals who just want to engage in public service simply as citizens to do so without being tagged.
9. Our experience since 1992 has shown that at the District level the political parties are not in the least autonomous even in their most basic day-to-day operations. They depend on the decisions and directives of the parties at the regional and the national levels for all activities.
It is an open secret that even constituency elections, especially those in respect of selection of parliamentary candidates and constituency executives in our Districts are often manipulated by powerful self-serving party bigwigs from “above” who usually act surreptitiously to subordinate local interests to their personal parochial interests in fragrant violation of common sense.
10. Finally, it is surprising that those arguing that our MMDCEs should be elected on partisan lines think that bringing the political parties into local level elections will automatically activate accountability. As a developing democracy, it is fair to agree that our political parties are still maturing hence accountability is not one of their strongest suits at this point.
As institutions that are yet to become fully accountable to their members and the republic, it will be a mistake to assume that once they become the vehicle for choosing leaders at the District level then accountability will automatically follow. In their present form, political party involvement in local elections will exacerbate the accountability concerns.
Finally, it is important to keep in mind that Parliament has the power to amend aspects of our constitution to make it possible for all of us as citizens to participate in the election of our MMDCES in the same way we presently elect Assembly and Unit Committee Members without committing the nation to a referendum.
The only purpose of the scheduled referendum is to allow the political parties become the main vehicles for electing MMDCEs, Assembly Members, and Unit Committee Members. If you rightly and wisely vote NO in the referendum, you are simply telling the government not to introduce political parties into our District level election to enable us to pursue and promote socio-economic development in unity as people with shared destiny.
Dr. Michael Kpessa-Whyte.
The writer is a Senior Research Fellow at Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon.