The Extraordinary Session of the Fifth Legislative Assembly of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament has opened in Winneba, Central Region, yesterday.
On the theme, “Evaluating two decades of democratic elections in the ECOWAS region: Achievements, challenges and the way forward”, the session brought together lawmakers from the 15-member states, reporteurs, and staff of the ECOWAS Commission.
Expected to end on October 22, the meeting, which follows the de-localised one earlier held in the central regional town, is the first outside of a national capital in the history of the ECOWAS Parliament.
The session would be used to discuss matters that pose threat to democracy and political stability in West Africa, consider and adopt the draft 2020 budget of the ECOWAS Parliament as well as matters including the desire of some heads of state to amend their countries’ constitution to hold on to power.
Opening the session, Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Dr Sidie Mohamed Tunis, said the region must pay attention to the phenomenon of constitutional amendments by sitting governments ultimately to satisfy their political ambitions.
“Amending a constitution to conform to current realities is not in itself a problem. However, when the proposed amendments to the Constitution protect the governing elite at the expense of citizens or will undermine the very nature of Constitutional democracy, thereby granting the incumbent undue advantage to extend his mandate, then we have a problem.
“The truth is, this practice is eroding the gains we have made as a community, sinking the region into more chaos, and creating a serious reputational risk for ECOWAS as an institution.
“If we do not take firm and very decisive actions against this ugly trend, ECOWAS will not only be perceived as a body of failed States but will indeed fail,” he told the House.
According to Dr Tunis, available evidence shows that political instability in some ECOWAS Member States in recent times are linked to electoral processes that precede the casting of ballots including compilation of vorers’ register organisation of ballot materials and to the declaration of results.
These practices, if not checked, Dr Tunis said, would continue to rock the sub-region, as he asked the session to consider these in their deliberations to make the region the bastion of democracy on the continent.
Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, in a statement on his behalf by the First Deputy Speaker, Joseph Osei-Owusu, cautioned against pre-election developments which manifest in violence affecting the stability of those countries.
“Hate speech, insightful language, and unfounded allegation of fraud have been defining what should be proud moments in the democratic legacies of states.”
He said though, elections were not inherently a source of violence, they could exacerbate political, ethnic, regional, and religious tensions which could spill over into violence, especially if not conducted within acceptable and transparent institutional frameworks.
Mr Bagbin said the failure of elections or their absence largely defines the predominance of political dictatorships and personalised rule in Africa, a reason why democracy must be deepened in the region and on the continent at large.
Member of Parliament for Effutu, Alexander Afenyo-Markin and leader of the Ghana delegation to the ECOWAS Parliament, on his part said the region and Africa at large must recover from the menace of the past where coups were the order of the day.
FROM JULIUS YAO PETETSI, WINNEBA