I was in my early teens when I first heard the word referendum. It was a new vocabulary but very often and laud on radio. It was in jingles, drama, songs, debates, news all over the place. I went to my school teacher, the Mr. Okoampa to enquire the meaning. He said to me, it was a system of seeking the opinions of the entire matured people in the country to enable the government take a decision on an important national matter.
What could that important matter be? I was told it was Union Government which was popularly referred to, at the time, as UNIGOV. I was not matured then to offer any opinion through the voting system as required by law but was very keen to know and understand what exactly it was.
Former Head of State, Col. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong who had seized power, had promised Ghanaians of improvements in the quality of life which was on based his government’s programs of nationalism, economic development, and self-reliance.
I was told that in order to entrench and perpetuate, if you like, his position as the Head of State, he dreamt of a concept of Union Government (UNIGOV), which would make Ghana a non-party state.
Union Government was simply a government in which “the military and the Police were to join the civilian population to fashion out a concept of government in which political parties were to be kicked to touch forever.”
Vigorous national campaign was mounted. It was during that time that I first saw a helicopter and it was flying YES leaflets during the UNIGOV campaign. My checks have revealed that “a total number of 4,497,8703 people were registered to vote. Out of this figure, 2,282,813 actually cast their votes. According to official figures released, 1,372,427 voted Yes. This figure represented 60.11 percent of the total vote. No registered a total of 910,386 or 30.89 percent of those who actually voted.”
YES, won alright but severe and uncontrollable agitations frequented. The country became too laud and rowdy. Professional groups, Trade Unions as well as students who did not want Col Acheampong to hold on to power indefinitely, vehemently engaged in demonstrations and succeeded in making Acheampong’s government very unpopular.
When the handwriting on the war appeared alarming, his close lieutenant, Lt. Gen. Fred Akuffo took over, in what could best be described as a palace coup, as the Head of State and abandoned the UNIGOV idea. He then put in place plans for constitutional and democratic system, even though Acheampong had worked his way through far enough for its implementation of his UNIGOV.
I am not too sure whether or not I have been a good political or a history teacher, here but I tried to catalogued this to say that on the 17th of December this year, Ghana will embark on another democratic dispensation to attempt to amend its supreme law and guidance book, the constitution by holding a referendum. This will be the second in many years.
The referendum which is being held on the same day and time as the elections of members of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assembly (MMDAs) as well as those of the Unit Committees, has drowned the later as it (the referendum) has rather taken the centre stage.
The referendum seeks to collate the opinions of the citizens as I was told by my teacher some decades ago, to amend an Article 55 (3) in the nation’s constitution. The said Article states “subject to the provisions of this article, a political party is free to participate in shaping the political will of the people, to disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character and sponsor candidates for elections to any public office other than to District Assemblies or lower local government units’’.
The amendment of this is necessary chiefly because it is entrenched in the constitution. “An entrenched clause or entrenchment clause of a basic law or constitution is a provision that makes certain amendments either more difficult or impossible to pass, making such amendments inadmissible. Overriding an entrenched clause may require a supermajority, a referendum, or the consent of the minority party.”
“The proposed changes would involve amending article 243 (1), which provides for the appointment of MMDCEs by the president, and Article 55 (3), which bans political party activity in district-level elections. As article 55 is an entrenched clause, the referendum requires a turnout of at least 40% and over 75% of those voting to vote in favour for the proposal to be passed”
The once peaceful and smooth process which started perhaps simultaneously with the current government has all of a sudden turned into confusion. Until recently, it was obvious that YES was going to win by wide margins, but now the leading opposition party the National Democratic Congress among others say NO.
Whatever good or bad reasons the party espouses, meaning has been read into it saying, once the idea was a campaign promise by the then flagbearer of the New Patriotic Party, a YES vote would buttress the stance and that would be a feather in its cap. How can the opposition do that? To help the opponent to continue staying in power? No, not in Ghana.
Yes, it was a campaign promise. A promise to get Chief Executives of MMDAs elected rather than appointed by the President. Is there a link to Article 55 (3) which is intended to be amended?
In Ghana, almost every election, even at work places and in churches have been politically coloured and spiced up. The truth said, even the Unit Committee and MMDA elections are deeply buried in political crowds. It appears to be a high sense of democracy which is now even practised in marriage settings.
Upon this observance of true democracy over the years in this country, the current President seeks to further boost it and shred off a portion of the powers vested in him. The understanding is that the people who have the power within the President but cannot exercise it can now exercise their own power if this portion of the constitution is duly amended.
Is this a good democratic booster for Ghana? perhaps yes. Perhaps no. there are two major school of thoughts. The first one basically is that there is the urgent need for government to give back some power to the people while the other is of the view that such a change will create some ambiguity in the constitution.
For instance, if the people gain the power to elect Heads of MMDAs could the President continue his power to sack them? What does the constitution say about this?
Some also argue that the impending referendum has absolutely nothing to do with elections of the Chief Executives of MMDAs. For these group of people, Article 243 (1) has it that “there shall be a District chief Executive for every district who shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of not less than two-thirds majority of members of the Assembly present and voting at the meeting.”. This obviously is not an entrenched in the constitution and could be easily amended by the parliament of country.
These are among many others what have sharply dividing the good people of Ghana. Could everyone be right? Possibly so. Could each of them be similarly wrong? It is also possible. Could there be a discussion to agree to disagree? It may be a brilliant move. These done or not, it is believed that the referendum will go ahead unabated.
Are voters well informed about the pros and cons for them to vote wisely and independently or they are just being preached to, to seek their votes to just satisfy some individuals or groups. The understanding of the referendum before voting is key and needs to be worked on by those responsible.
Elections are known to be sharing of ideas, after that there must be unity and development. After the referendum, it could be YES or NO but unity and development should go on.
Nana Sifa Twum