By Ebenezer Immanuel Obeng-Akrofi

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) has petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the result of Ghana’s presidential election, saying incumbent Akufo-Addo of New Patriotic Party (NPP) did not legitimately win the election. Ghana’s relatively peaceful election on December 7 saw incumbent declared the winner with 51.59% of the vote, ahead of his main challenger, former President John Mahama of NDC, who received 47.37%.

In the coming days, citizens and political stakeholders have braced themselves for what promises to be yet another showdown of legal discourse pertaining to elections administration in Ghana. Preliminary proceedings of Ghana’s December 7, 2020, election petition commenced on Thursday, January 14, 2021. Council for the petitioners appeared before the 7 member panel to submit an amendment to their earlier petition. This was granted and saw the case adjourned to Tuesday, January 19, 2021, for a pre-trial.

With the court granting the motion for amendment, citizens can now follow the proceedings from the comfort of their homes as the entire proceedings will be televised live by major news outlets. This is a big win for media freedom and inclusiveness I’d say.

Smooth elections

This election tested the resilience of Ghana’s democracy and elections management prowess. Amid the scare of the Covid-19 pandemic, voters defied odds while still being careful, to exercise their constitutional rights of universal adult suffrage. On the eve of the elections, eager voters formed queues with stones as they secured spots to cast their ballot the following day. This was in anticipation that a myriad of challenges which had characterised the voting process in the previous years could come to play once more.

To the surprise of many, the voting process commenced and progressed in a seamless manner. Various reports indicate that voters spent not more than 5 minutes to cast their ballot. For this, the elections have been hailed as one of the smoothest by far.

However, as expected there were some isolated cases of conflict resulting in violent confrontations between some aggrieved voters and security personnel. Reports also allege that some unscrupulous persons believed to be affiliated to the two major political parties were seen engaging in violent confrontations with their opponents, and in some instances, injuries were recorded.

For a country that touts itself as the beacon of democracy on the continent, it is totally unacceptable that after seven consecutive elections such cases are still being witnessed. Even though blame can be apportioned to political parties, citizens must not forget that they are the same individuals who make up these parties hence are equally culpable.

The December elections had many successes as much as the few unwanted events seem to have overshadowed the progress made by the West African nation.

Claims of fraud

In Ghana, every election cycle has witnessed claims and counterclaims of voting fraud by the opposition and losing side. Going back to the country’s first republic, the then opposition and now incumbent totally boycotted the country’s first legislative polling held in 1992 citing various allegations of electoral fraud in favour of Chairman Rawlings lead National Democratic Congress.

Subsequently, each election has been seen either as fraudulent by the opposition or hailed as transparent, free and fair by the winning side. It is not surprising that in 2012, the then opposition candidate now President-elect, sought to challenge the outcome of the elections at the country’s apex judicial body. The trial which became known as the 2012 Election Petition lasted almost 3 months. The results of which was a bulky document which led to some major reforms in the country’s electoral laws.

The petition

Currently, the main contenders of the December 2020 elections have followed in similar footsteps and have since filed a petition at the Supreme Court. It is however interesting to note that prior to this there were series of demonstrations by party supporters and sympathizers calling on the Electoral Commission (EC) to rescind its earlier declaration of the NPPs candidate as the winner of the elections. In a rather shocking occurrence, security personnel prevented members of parliament from the opposition NDC when they embarked on a march to submit a petition to the EC urging them to look into issues of alleged irregularities in elections and the subsequent declaration of a winner.

Although many are of the view that the petition is a futile effort, the action of the main opposition should be applauded because following the precedence set in 2012 demonstrates political maturity and trust in the judicial system. Whereas election disputes have plunged several countries on the continent into turmoil, Ghana follows the path of the few like Kenya and Malawi where such disputes have been resolved by the courts. Indeed, Kenya and Malawi are worth mentioning because they are clear cases where verdicts on the courts have resulted in a rerun of elections. Malawi, however, stands out due to the interesting outcome of the rerun of its elections in 2019 which saw the opposition candidate coming out as the winner.

However, it is interesting to note that in the case of Ghana, the petitioner who is the immediate past President has levelled a barrage of allegations against the EC Chairperson. He alleges that the Chairperson who is the first respondent, connived with the second respondent (President Akufo Addo) to rig the elections in the favour of the second respondent. This may be an attempt to cast doubts in the minds of his party’s supporters or sympathizers. Nonetheless, what the courts will be seeking out for will be concrete evidence of grand irregularities thereby warranting a grant of his reliefs sought.

Whereas in 2012 the entire atmosphere was tense with people choosing to stay indoors and listen to proceedings. It is heartwarming to know that citizens are going about their daily routine without any fears of violence erupting. What this signifies is that, although tempers rise during the election period, most people seem to move on with their lives in a normal manner.

The verdict of this petition may be unknown but what is certain is that democracy in Ghana has come to stay. The fears of the country witnessing any form of widespread violence has been put to rest. With the beginning of a new year considering the uncertainties that characterised 2020 due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, most people are determined to rather focus their energies on pursuing their new year resolutions than spend time doing the bidding of the political elite.

Today, Wednesday, January 20 continues Ghana’s 2020 election petition hearing. The beacon of Africa’s democracy yet again has its name in the limelight as its major judicial body is being called upon once again in another landmark case.