The Akufo-Addo Government has cancelled the December 17 national referendum which was meant to decide on an amendment of Article 55 (3) of the Constitution to enable political parties to sponsor candidates during local level elections.
This was announced by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in a brief address to the nation on Sunday, December 1, 2019.
He also directed the Local Government and Rural Development Minister, Hajia Alima Mahama to withdraw the Bills seeking to change Articles 55 (3) and 243 (1).
As the referendum day drew closer, there was a noticeable split among major stakeholders and observers.
NDC kicks against referendum
After a seeming consensus on a YES vote in the referendum, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) started advocating for a NO vote.
The NDC was worried that an amendment will open district assemblies and unit committees to “the needless NDC-NPP polarisation.”
The NDC’s flagbearer, John Mahama also backed his party’s position suggesting that an amendment of Article 243(1) of the constitution was more necessary.
Per Article 243 (1) of the 1992 Constitution, District Chief Executives for every district are to be appointed by the President with the prior approval of not less than two-thirds majority of members of the assembly present and voting at the meeting.
The General Secretary of the NDC, Johnson Asiedu Nketia further claimed the government had not held any consultations with the party on the referendum.
The governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) was in favour of a YES vote saying the amendment to the constitution will bolster Ghana’s democracy.
National House of chiefs divided over referendum
Traditional leaders were also in disagreement over the need for partisan participation in the district level elections.
The National House of Chiefs in a statement issued and signed by its President Togbe Afede XIV argued that decentralisation would negatively be affected by the control of local parties.
But the Paramount Chief of the Akyem Abuakwa traditional area and President of the Eastern Region House of Chiefs, Okyenhene Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin II urged Ghanaians to ignore calls for a NO vote in the national referendum.
There had already been indications that traditional leaders were not on the same page after Chairman of the Governance Committee of the House, Ogyeahoho Yaw Gyebi II of Sefwi Anhwiaso in the Western Region told Citi News that the stance of the National House of Chiefs did not represent the collective view of the chiefs.
More than half of Ghanaians not aware of upcoming referendum – Afrobarometer report
While the debates on YES or NO votes lingered, a new Afrobarometer report disclosed that over 50 percent of Ghanaians said they were not aware of the upcoming referendum.
Of the less than 42 percent of Ghanaians who are aware of the referendum, the report said men, the highly educated, and elderly citizens were more aware of the referendum than women, citizens with less schooling, and young adults.
Awareness of the referendum increased with respondents’ level of education.
It reached 62 percent among those with post-secondary education, compared to 35 percent to 42 percent among those with less schooling.
Men, comprising 52 percent, are more likely to be aware of the referendum than women; 32 percent.
Awareness increases with age, ranging from 40 percent of youth to 47 percent of those over age 55.
Over 60% of Ghanaians are aware of referendum – ILGS counters Afrobarometer report
But the Institute of Local Government Studies also released a counter-report which indicated that more than sixty percent of Ghanaians are aware of the upcoming referendum and have a good understanding of the exercise.
Presenting the findings at a press conference recently, Director for the Institute, Dr. Nicholas Awortwi, however, indicated that voters in their twenties are the least aware of the impending exercise.
Dr. Awortwi further noted that more than sixty percent of the electorate will turn up at the polls with 75 percent of that number, voting YES.
“The results that we found was that about 66 percent of registered voters of 16.8 million are aware of the referendum of which 67 percent are ready to turn up. Of this 67 percent that are willing to turn up, 75 percent said they will vote YES if the elections were organised at the time when we organised the study.”
Local Gov’t Minister answers 22 critical questions on December referendum
The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Hajia Alima Mahama last week responded to some 22 questions posed her by the Chamber for Local Governance (ChLoG), on the December 17 referendum.
ChLoG had among other things questioned why government was prioritizing the referendum over Article 243 (1) which when amended will enable Ghanaians to vote for their own Metropolitan Municipal and District Chief Executives.
“That is exactly what is happening. Amendment to Article 243(1) has been prioritized, the amendment bill was the first to be processed. It is presently in Parliament and has gone through all the required processes. It is at the last stage which requires a vote by Members of Parliament (MPs) to approve the Bill. If we work hard it may be approved before 17th December 2019,” she answered.
The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) in a statement answered all the 22 questions asked by ChLoG.
NPP campaign promise on election of MMDCEs
The election of Metropolitan Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) was a major campaign promise of the New Patriotic Party in the run-up to the 2016 election.
The New Patriotic Party in its 2016 manifesto, promised to “oversee the direct election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) within 24 months of election into office, to coincide with the next District Assembly elections in 2019.”
About December 17th Referendum
The Electoral Commission (EC) has scheduled December 17, 2019, to conduct a referendum to approve the bill to amend Clause 3 of Article 55 of the 1992 Constitution.
This bill when passed will allow political parties to fund candidates for election to district assemblies and lower local government units.
The purpose of this referendum is to see if Ghanaians are in favour of the Bill to amend Clause 3 of Article 55 of the 1992 Constitution to allow political parties to sponsor candidates for election to District assemblies or lower local government units.
The amendment of Article 55(3) will also pave way for political parties’ participation in the District Level Election.
Article 55(3) states that “subject to the provisions of this article, a political party is free to participate in shaping the political will of the people, to disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character and sponsor candidates for elections to any public office other than to District Assemblies or lower local government units’’.
Consequently, Parliament will also amend Article 243 (1) for the mandate to appoint MMDCEs by the President to change, for the electorate rather elect them as their superintendents at the local level.
Article 243 (1) states that: “There shall be a District Chief Executive for every district who shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of not less than two-thirds majority of members of the Assembly present and voting at the meeting.”
The outcome of the referendum will have either of the following outcomes: If the electorate votes YES, the election of MMDCEs, Assembly and Unit Committee Members in the near future will be on a partisan basis.
If Ghanaians vote NO, then the election of these candidates for the local level elections will be on a non-partisan basis as being practised now.
But Parliament may decide to amend Article 243 (1) to allow for the election of MMDCEs.
Postponing or withdrawing referendum not possible – Lawyer
Private legal practitioner, John Ndebugri says calls for the postponement or withdrawal of the December 17 referendum are unfounded.
According to him, all the constitutional requirements for the exercise have been followed.
Speaking to Citi News, the former Member of Parliament for the Bawku West indicated that even the decision to call off the referendum is no longer within the power of the executive or legislature.
“The referendum cannot be withdrawn or postponed. If a decision is taken to amend an entrenched clause of the 1992 constitution, the government will publish the intention in the gazette six months in advance and then lay the bill before Parliament for the House to refer it to the Council of State. The Council will consider the proposal and advice for or against. Then it goes back to Parliament for the Electoral Commission to put the question before the nation through a referendum. We have passed through all that and so the matter is no longer within the ambit of the Executive. It is even not within the powers of Parliament because it is now with the Electoral Commission.”