A close contest was always going to generate controversy no matter who won. Mahama needed at least 53% of the votes to force the incumbent to concede. If Akufo-Addo had won, say, 54% of the votes, the opponent would have found it difficult to question it.
A close contest would always put the EC chair in a perilous situation. We have an electoral system where the EC Chair has to come out and tell us who won before we know who won. In older, more established democracies, the press and interested parties keep tabs on the counting process. They have access to all the counting stations and they tally these up and tell the public the outcome.
That is why we hear, when following the US elections, that this news organisation, or that TV station, has “called it” for this or that candidate. They will all have observed the same process of counting and come to the same totals. The people do not need to wait for any EC Chair to come and formally announce the final results which may be different from their own numbers.
Not so in Ghana where only the Electoral Commissioner knows who has eventually won. This sets the ground for suspicion, especially of the EC Chair, even where she has not manipulated the results.
Afari-Gyan waded through this quagmire for several years. Where the call was close, nobody really knew who actually won. Charlotte Osei was under pressure to declare a result that did not favour the government that appointed her. But Akufo-Addo’s margin of victory was so clear that she couldn’t do otherwise than declare him the winner.
Akufo-Addo found some spurious reasons to sack Osei and appoint another referee more to his liking. This time around, Akufo-Addo’s margin of victory is slim. The major opponent is crying foul. It has provided a situation where the EC Chair’s voice would be decisive. It is easy for her to tilt towards the preservation of the status quo. And that was exactly what she did.
This victory is going to stay. The opponent cannot prove that he won. Mahama should go to court if he thinks he has enough evidence for his case. He is not going to win in a judiciary controlled by the ruling party but a court case will expose some of the glaring anomalies in our system and pave the way for reforms. But one thing is clear: after many years of trying, we are still not able to count our ballots accurately. And a lot of this is due to the lack of candour on the part of many of the participants in the process.
It won’t be easy for us to come out of this dilemma of the close vote. When we improve our counting and registration system, perhaps making it more computerised, we may come some way. A purely computerised and secure system will release the results on its own. Nobody will have to wait for the EC Chair to announce a winner from computations she alone is privy to. She will be reading from the same screens as the rest of us and won’t be able to interfere in things without our seeing her hands in it. She would not be in a position where she would release one set of figures and make a correction later. But we are a very long way from that idyll.
The situation of the close vote should not surprise us. It has been the norm in the Fourth Republic. Apart from Rawlings’ first two clear-cut victories, the others were close-run affairs with two (2000 and 2008) going into run-offs. Akufo-Addo’s 2016 victory with 53.7% turned out to be a “huge” one given the circumstances.
Perhaps we may take pride in the fact that democracy in the Fourth Republic has led to very competitive elections. Gone are the days when the incumbent won ninety something percent of the votes (as still happens in some African countries). Apart from the two run-offs, every incumbent who won a second term got a lower percentage of the votes than that which won him the first term. Even Rawlings never got the support of 60% of the voters. But we can still do better in the matter of transparency of the count.
I wish to make two observations. There are no provisions for a protest vote in Ghana. A candidate who enters the polling booth must, of necessity, vote for one of the available candidates. There is no blank box for a voter to register the fact that she does not wish to vote for any of the available candidates. A ballot paper that has no mark is invalidated.
This is unfortunate. The only way to register a protest vote is either to not register or not turn up at the polling booth on voting day. But this is not a true protest vote. It is a denial of participation in the electoral process. A true protest vote is cast by an elector who fully participates in the electoral process. Perhaps we are not sophisticated enough to include considerations of protest votes in our electoral process. But this can easily be done by counting blank ballot papers as valid.
This leads me to my other observation. In the aftermath of the elections, some figures were bandied about showing a percentage total of more than a 100. This cannot be so. Article 63, Clause 3, of the 1992 Constitution, states that the winner of the presidential elections shall be the one who collects more than 50% of the VALID votes cast. This means ballots that were rejected cannot be included in the total on which the percentage win is calculated. But where we have a true protest vote, a blank vote will be considered as valid and included in the tally from which the winning percentage is calculated.
Any reform of our electoral system should take a look at the issue of protest votes among other weaknesses in the system including a cluttered field made up of too many also-runs, and, especially, the issue of campaign financing (bribing voters) that is now preventing ordinary citizens from seeking political office.
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