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Ghana: Judging elections amid growing corruption

By Patrick Smith in Accra
Posted on Tuesday, 6 August 2013 10:16

Similar efforts to scrutinise and assess presidential elections in the United States in 2000 and in Kenya in March this year took less than two weeks, and the judges’ conclusions – to endorse the election of George W. Bush and Uhuru Kenyatta, respectively – were highly contested.

In Ghana, it will have taken more than 50 days of tortuous legal argument, all broadcast live on national television.

The petitioners from the New Patriotic Party (NPP) surprised almost everyone in their efforts to prove that their presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, was unfairly denied victory.

The judges and their advisers were awash in paperwork.

The NPP submitted copies of result sheets from more than 11,000 out of 26,000 polling stations, deluging the court with nearly half a million documents.

The Electoral Commission under veteran chairman Kwadwo Afari-Gyan declared that Akufo-Addo lost by 325,000 votes to the National Democratic Congress’s (NDC) John Dramani Mahama.

The NPP has tried to portray Afari-Gyan, formerly held up as guru of election management, as out of touch with reality on the ground and culpably negligent.

The top lawyers in the case – Philip Addison for the NPP and Tsatsu Tsikata for the NDC – have become national figures as their televised cross examinations have become a local political soap opera.

While Addison has taken a wider aim: relentlessly questioning the competence of the Electoral Commission, Tsikata has concentrated his fire on the quality of the NPP’s evidence and its lawyers’ adherence to procedure.

Beyond the immediate drama of the courtroom, there is a nagging question. Was it all worth it?

Doubtless, the Supreme Court judges have dutifully analysed the mechanics of the elections and are likely to make constructive recommendations.

But bigger questions weigh on Ghana’s politics beyond the judges’ competence.

How functional and fair is the winner-takes-all system – with a presidency that appoints the cabinet, the heads of the parastatal companies and the regional premiers with few formal requirements to consult other parties?

Worse still, the institutions trying to make the government accountable, such as the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice, lack the resources and the political backing to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing.

As the wait for the Supreme Court to rule continued, a message from the grassroots surfaced: a survey by Berlin-based Transparency International reported that 20 percent of Ghanaians thought that corruption in the country was increasing, particularly among police officers.

Long after the learned friends have spoken, these are issues with which Ghana’s politicians will have to grapple. ●

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