Confusion and Violence mar Voter Registration in Ghana
Amandla Reporter in Accra
Ghana’s Electoral Commission (EC) on April 28, started a limited registration exercise for qualified Ghanaians to have a chance to vote in the November elections. Reports so far indicate that in many places, particularly the NPP strongholds in Ashanti and Eastern regions, there have been incidences of violence in which some Ghanaians have been hurt. Whatever incidents of violence and inconsistencies have emanated from the exercise could be assigned to two reasons: the lack of preparedness on the part of the EC and interference by political parties.
Reports of poor logistical support by the EC have been received from so many places. They are both technical and human resource based. In so many places registration had to wait for some hours with people lined up in the searing heat. The biometric equipment to be used were either inoperable or broken down. In a few cases too, personnel supposedly trained to man the equipment did not know how to operate them. The EC obviously went into the exercise ill-prepared and under-resourced. At several institutions of higher learning, especially the universities, the equipment provided was not enough to cater for the communities. On Friday, May 6 only 16 students could be registered after four hours. According to the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) the EC may deprive several qualified voters from exercising their franchise owing to the slow process. Just a little over 100 students are being registered daily. For students preparing for examinations, there is no time to wait for endless hours for an exercise that should only be a moment.
In other places the equipment could not be operated by the personnel. In the Upper East region, frustration of the citizens was exacerbated by personnel inadequately trained on the biometric equipment. At Kunkua No.1 in the Yabaga- Kobori constituency of the Northern region registration material were all stolen and nowhere to be found on the first day of the exercise.
There are also reports of abuse of the registration process where people are made readily available to guarantee for registrants without credible identification documents. Such guarantors were allowed to sign guarantor documents even before the exercise even began at T. B. Awakorme Registration Centre in the Avoeme West Electoral Area in the Ketu South District of the Volta Region. At the Accra Girls Senior High School, Registration Centre in the Mamobi East Electoral Area in Ayawaso in the Greater Accra Region today, Thursday May 5, CODEO observers spotted NDC-branded vehicles loaded with people who appeared to be serving as guarantors for would-be registrants,” it stated, adding that “at the R/C 2 Hwidiem Osuodumgya A JHS Registration Centre in the Santeagya Electoral Area in the Asutifi South District of the Brong-Ahafo Region, unauthorized persons had gathered around the registration centre ostensibly to vouch for applicants.”
Violence at registration centers
Logistical failures aside, the other worrying problems include violence at the registration centers.
Particularly in the Ashanti and Eastern regions, both strongholds of the opposition NPP, there have been reports of attacks against persons perceived to be NPP members. In some places muscular males known in local parlance as machomen are reported to have attacked the EC officials, broken the equipment and sped away on their motor bikes.
Mr. Kwabena Mintah Akandoh, MP for Juaboso Constituency in the Western region is alleged to have led thugs to assault the NPP Parliamentary Candidate Martha Kwayie Manu at a registration center. Mr. Akandor was accused by Ms. Kwayie of bussing in people from neighboring Ivory Coast to register at the center.
At some centers also in Kumasi some high school students were prevented from registering. Several reports of assault of opposition NPP registration observers continued to pour out as the exercise went on. Registration of minors is also common and cause for confrontation at the centers.
The Volta regional chairman of the NPP Peter Amewu is alleged to have been assaulted by men in police uniforms who were carrying registration equipment on a police vehicle toward the direction of Togo. Eyewitnesses claimed some thugs raided the Metrikasa electoral area to stop the Electoral Commission and the Police from moving the registration kits to Ete Kope, another community close to the Togo border. This happened in the Akatsi North District of the Volta Region. “A national police patrol team… drove into station and took the registration equipment, put them into their vehicle and drove towards the republic of Togo on a rough road to a village close to Togo which is not part of the registration movement plan,” he stated.
He said he managed to use his to vehicle block theirs and made sure they returned to the original registration centre.
This escalated into an open confrontation between the members of the NDC and the NPP, with the opposition party accusing the EC and the police of siding with the members of the governing party. They pounced on him as he stopped to query them. According to a PeaceFM news report on Saturday May 7, Mr. Amewu dared questioned the illegal action of the persons on the vehicle. He has vowed to pursue the case through the courts to ensure that justice is served, according to the radio report. Mr. Amewu earlier on April 27 reported that the NDC had bussed in people from across the border in Togo to come and register, adding that a border town on the Togo side was being supplied with electricity from Ghana, with its streets being repaired and asphalted.
An official of the EC at Tamale in the Northern region, Jocelyn Techi has reported that her life is being threatened by the NDC parliamentary candidate for Tamale North, Alhassan Suhuyini. Her only crime was trying to prevent the NDC from registering minors. “The challenge here is the minors they are registering, it’s too bad. They come with a minor to register and when you try to challenge, they come with a quarrel that if you don’t give the card to the person they will beat you up. It’s so bad… at the end of the day, people will come and plead that they need the card”, she said.
Incidents of violence and confusion that have characterized this year’s registration exercise do not bode well for the general elections that have been slated for November 7 this year. The part played by the Electoral Commissioner and her deputies culminating in violence and confusion is hazy but the election body cannot exonerate itself from the incidents. In some cases its workers are seen accompanying NDC officials committing cross-border crimes of registering foreigners as happened in the case of equipment being shipped across to Togo.
In most cases the police have also been culpable. They would look away as crimes were being committed. In a few cases, however, some culprits have been apprehended and handed over. On the other hand there were cases where persons arrested, particularly members of the NDC, were left off the hook sooner than necessary. Persons in police uniforms have also been found cooperating with wrongdoers, and often helping in the arrest and manhandling of persons perceived to be NPP trying to prevent crimes being committed. Police has been heard saying the EC did not formally give them any security mandate during the exercise.
If the violence, confusion and lack of security for registrants, party officials and EC personnel in this year’s limited registration are anything to go by, then the Electoral Commissioner has a long way to go to ensure peaceful general elections in November.