A few months after I wrote my senior high school certificate examination, Ghana was going to the polls. That was the 2004 election. I applied to take part as a polling assistant for the Electoral Commission in the Krachi West Constituency of the Volta Region. My only motivation was the allowance that was available to be claimed.
When the day got closer, and the polling station I was supposed to work on Election Day was announced, I got worried and afraid. I was posted to Aglakope, an island community in the constituency. Fortunately, my senior high school mate, Isaac Mensa (Oferor) was also posted there. I had a companion.
We left Kete-Krachi at about 4PM on December 6 in a large boat, and in about two hours, we were on the island of crabs. The boat carried electoral officials and materials for different island communities so when those of us going to Aglakope reached our destination, it continued to the other island villages. When voting was over and the counting was done, they would go round and pick the officials and the electoral materials.
We were welcomed warmly. The people of Aglakope were very generous. They served us heavy banku for supper and proved to us that they were, indeed, a fishing community.
Shortly after voting began the following morning, however, that friendship appeared and hostilities set in. The people were being disenfranchised. And they would fight back, they swore.
“If you don’t allow us to vote, we will make sure you don’t leave this community alive,” someone threatened.
It was about two hours into the voting exercise and we had run out of ballot papers. The people were furious because they thought it was intentional. The island communities in the Krachi West Constituency are known to vote massively for the National Democratic Congress (NDC). The New Patriotic Party (NPP) was in power so the general consensus was that we the election officials had connived with the governing party to disenfranchise the voters.
We had no means of transportation when it was finally decided that we had to get additional electoral materials. There was no mobile phone network in Krachi in 2004 so we could not communicate with our boatman. It was also impossible to communicate with the district electoral commission office in Kete-Krachi.
Finally, somebody agreed to give us a boat to travel to Kete-Krachi to get more electoral materials. Our Presiding Officer, one Mr. Addae, who was a worker at the district education office, embarked on a journey to Kete-Krachi to get more electoral materials. He returned after three hours, but some people could not vote.
Aglakope was a central location where other nearby island communities came to vote. The fisher folks in those communities had left their catch unattended to and rushed to vote. Some were tired of waiting, and because they could not allow their catch to rot, they traveled back to their communities. Not all of them came back to vote when the ballot papers arrived.
When the counting was done that evening, about 98% of the people who cast their ballots, voted for Professor J. E. A. Mills of the NDC. An angry voter was livid about the results: “How I wish we knew the traitors who voted for the NPP so that we teach them a lesson,” he said. We came back to Kete-Krachi the following day. Information I gathered on how the process was conducted made me suspect that what happened at Aglakope was not just a mistake. It appeared as though it was intentionally done to cause the NDC’s downfall. Only God knows how many similar or different tricks may have been played on voters in other communities.
Again, in 2008, when the NPP was in power, I witnessed how a whole village was denied an opportunity to be part of the election in the presidential run-off. I was a correspondent for the GBC so I followed the district electoral officer on his rounds. When we got to the Chinderi Police Post in what is now the Krachi Nchumuru Constituency, we met a broken ballot box. The most senior police officer there told us that the NPP Constituency Chairman had disrupted the process in Fante Akura, an island community that was known to be voting massively for the NDC.
The Constituency Chairman had disagreed with the EC officials on the placement of the ballot box. And what did he do? He broke the ballot box, took out some of the ballot papers and tore them into pieces. He stormed out of the polling station without being arrested. Nobody touched him. And it wasn’t a surprise. His party was in power and he was a very powerful man in Kete-Krachi. The broken ballot box and the torn ballot papers were brought to Chinderi and the people were never given the opportunity to vote. It was at about 3PM when the district election officer got there. So the people of Fante Akura were not counted in the second round of election that saw the election of President Mills in 2008.
In these past few days, there have been allegations and agitations from mainly the NPP, who are accusing the Electoral Commission of conniving with the NDC to rig the election. Some of the allegations appear very unbelievable. Some people have also wondered if the elections can be rigged.
Let me state that both the NDC and NPP are not honest. If given the least opportunity, either of them will not hesitate to cheat or rig the election. The incumbent party often has the upper hand because it controls the police and other security officials as well as the agencies of the state. But the nature of our election is so transparent that it is difficult to cheat after the ballots are counted. So a party that intends to rig adopts tactics that reduce the voter turnout in their opponent’s strongholds.
And I must say that it is not always done by or with the help of the electoral commission officials. In the Krachi West incident in 2004, I do not know the extent to which the district electoral officer was involved, but in 2008, he was not in support of any such efforts. He was said to be sympathetic to the NDC so the system was very hostile to him. His life was even threatened when he insisted that things should be done fairly and transparently.
In an hour’s time, voting will end, and in the presence of the general public, the party agents and electoral commission officials will count the ballots. The results will be announced publicly in the presence of everyone. Each polling station’s result will be taken to the collation centre of the constituency. The constituency results will be the summation of all the polling station results. And the national results will be the summation of the constituency results. So if the political parties are vigilant at the polling stations, they can track every single vote and do their own tabulations and nobody can mess up with the final results.
Our election process is not perfect, but it has improved to a level that makes it practically impossible to steal the mandate of the people. Any political party that is cheated in this election is not serious in policing the process. Apart from the incidents I have mentioned above in the 2004 and 2008 election and manipulations that are done to deter some voters, the system is difficult to cheat. And the Chairman of the Electoral Commission is the last person to accuse of rigging in this system.
I wish all the political parties taking part in the election the very best of the election. At 5PM, let’s all help to ensure that each vote is protected and the sanctity of the process is maintained.
God bless our Homeland Ghana and make our democracy great and strong!
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior broadcast journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are his personal opinions and do not reflect, in any form or shape, those of The Multimedia Group, where he works.