Ghana’s Parliament has disapproved the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which sought to amend Article 112 (4) of the 1992 Constitution to provide for Parliamentary Elections to be held on the first Monday of November in every election year, to ensure effective and smooth transition.
The rejection of the passage of the Bill into law follows the House’s inability to garner two thirds of the votes cast during a secret ballot by the Lawmakers on the floor of the House.
‘Honourable Members, the results of the secret ballot are as follows. The “I’s (MPs who voted for the motion) had 125 votes while the No’s (MPs who voted against the motion) had 95 votes. Hon. Members, Article 291 Clause 3 requires that Parliament needs at least two thirds of all Members of Parliament (275 Members) to approve the Bill at the Second Reading Stage.
Two thirds is 184 because the two thirds of 275 is 183.333 and therefore the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is rejected at the Second Reading’, the Speaker, Edward Doe Adjaho declared the results.
The Electoral Commission
The rejection of the Bill by the august House means that the Electoral Commission will conduct this year’s election on the stipulated December 7, 2016.
It is worth noting that when the Electoral Commission (EC) met the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs earlier, the ‘EC informed the Committee that it had already prepared two draft Constitutional Instruments for the 2016 elections for both 7th November and 7th December and will present the appropriate Constitutional Instrument to Parliament depending on the decision of the House on the Bill.’
What this means is that the EC is now expected to prepare a draft Constitutional Instrument for the 2016 elections to be held on December 7.
When the EC presents a draft Constitutional Instrument to the august House, Parliament will consider the draft and endorse it for the EC to conduct the elections on Wednesday, the 7th of December, 2016.
Reactions after the Votes
‘The signals were all there for all of us to see. I saw it and all I will say is that it is unfortunate that we were unable to rise above partisan party politics. We did not consider the interest of Ghana. We considered our political parties’ interest because clearly from what happened, we voted on party lines’, Chairman of the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, Magnus Amoatey told the Parliamentary Press Corps after the results of the votes. He is with the Majority side (NDC) of the House.
Before the Votes
Prior to the voting, the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, who moved the motion for the Bill to be read a Second Time posited that ‘currently, the dates set aside in respect of the conduct of both Presidential and Parliamentary elections in the country is the 7th day of December whilst swearing-in of the President takes place on the 7th day of January in the ensuing year. However, the one month period for the transition of one government to the other, has over the years proved insufficient for a smooth transition particularly, in instances where there is a run-off election as was the case in 2000 and 2008.’
The Minister added that ‘in light of the apparent weaknesses in Ghana’s electoral system and following the election petition in 2013, the Electoral Reform Committee was established on 23rd January, 2015 to propose reforms to the country’s electoral system. The Electoral Reform Committee comprised representatives of the Electoral Commission.’
She further stated that ‘one of the recommendations made by the Committee was a change in the date for the conduct of general elections from the 7th of December to the first Monday of November in an election year. The Committee specified that the general elections should be held on every first Monday of November in an election year in order to have elections on a specific day instead of having elections on a specific date. A reference was made to the United States of America where elections are fixed on the second Tuesday of November in an election year.’
The Attorney-General also indicated that ‘according to the Committee, holding the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in November would allow for sufficient time between elections and the handing over of power to an incoming government. This would also ensure a smooth transition and reduce acrimony as well as prevent the chaotic situation whereby former Ministers of State are recalled to provide information to the in-coming Government on matters of the State.’
She reiterated that ‘the Committee further stated that the reason for choosing the first Monday of November in an election year, as a convenient day of the week for elections, was that having a specific day of the week instead of a specific date for elections, would prevent the inconvenience associated with some days of the week which have the tendency of affecting voters turn-out such as Friday or a Sunday. Other reasons were that having the elections on a day following a weekend would allow ample time for the preparation of the Electoral Commission by way of transportation and distribution of election materials. Parliamentary candidates would get more time with their constituents in their constituencies and it would be easier for people who had to travel to their various constituencies to do so on a weekend to cast their votes on a Monday.’
The Minister intimated that ‘thus, to ensure that Parliamentary elections are earlier than the 7th day of December, the Bill amends Article 112 (4) of the Constitution to provide for Parliamentary elections to be held on the first Monday of November in every election year.’
The Minority Stand on the Bill
Expressing the view of the Minority Side of the House (NPP) on the motion, the Minority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said that ‘in principle, nobody in Ghana will be against the proposal to have a rethink to bring the date of the elections forward.’
He emphasised that ‘let it not be said by anyone that the New Patriotic Party (NPP) as a party is in principle against bringing the date forward.’
‘Mr Speaker, after the Court Case in 2013, the then Chairman of the EC requested from the political parties various memoranda on the reforms as they envisaged. And indeed in January 2014, the NPP was the first party to submit our memorandum on Electoral Reforms. And we suggested that we should conduct the elections given the experience of the Nation in 2008, earlier than December 7’, Hon. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu recalled.
The Minority Leader also stated that ‘we proposed that elections should either be held in October or November. Let nobody pollute the atmosphere by saying that the NPP is against it (Bill); in principle, no.’ He added that the Electoral Commission is ill-prepared to conduct elections on the proposed date in the Bill (November 7) this year.
‘Mr Speaker, so I believe that for practical reasons… I mean the principle of the Bill is accepted \ is acknowledged by everybody. So the principle is understood. Mr Speaker, the NPP is for the principle’, he reiterated.
Hon. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu further indicated that ‘if the intention of the Bill is to operationalise what we are doing this year (the elections), I’m afraid the NPP cannot abide by that. We are for the principle but the operationalization is what we are concerned about. If the operationalisation of the Bill will take place in the year 2020, we are for it.’
He also said that ‘let us be very circumspect in this and I believe that as a country, we shall all be together in defending the principle of the Bill.’
The Majority Take on the Bill
For his part, the Majority Leader, Alban Bagbin said that if you (Minority) are not ready by November 7, you will not be ready by December 7. Mr Speaker, this House cannot fail the people of Ghana. All the other stakeholders have performed their functions well with respect to the Bill.’
He added that ‘we put up a Committee, they submitted a Report, Consultations had been held by the Electoral Commission with all the stakeholders including the parties that sponsored us to be here. They have all agreed. They have come before the Committee, they have stated their positions, the Committee has submitted a Report, and it is now the turn of this House to perform our duty. We must perform our duty and we must support the decision of the people of Ghana. That is what is expected of us. We cannot fail the people of Ghana.’
‘Mr Speaker, I know that we are going to vote and I know that the vote is secret but the record must have it. It is here (parliament) for future generation to go through’, the Leader of the Majority Side of the House (National Democratic Congress), Hon. Bagbin said.