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AEP Explainer: The Phenomenon of Vote Buying in Ghana
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As part of Penplusbytes’ (AEPissue-based coverage of Ghana’s 2016 Elections, this explainer article provides insights and an in-depth explanation on the issue of Vote Buying, a recurring issue in Ghana’s political discourse.

Background

Elections and voting are important mechanisms for selecting leaders for political offices in every democracy. Since the restoration of democratic rule in Ghana in 1992, Ghanaians have peacefully voted in six successfully-organized elections that resulted in two political transitions, which have entrenched democracy in Ghana. However, like the rest of the developing world, elections have not been without blemish as evidenced in problems such as ballot fraud, low voter education, electoral violence, and clientelism. Since 1992, elections in Ghana have been approached as a 'do or die' affair, a situation that has been blamed on the exclusionary politics, popularly referred to as the winner-takes-all system of politics that hardly promotes consensus-building on matters of national importance in the country. Ahead of the 2016 elections, allegations of foreign voters on Ghana’s voter’s register occasioned the deletion, in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling, the names of NHIS registrants on voters’ register.

To many Ghanaians, these issues foreshadowed the usual acrimony, accusations and counter accusations that remain a permanent feature of elections in the country. The recent issue of vote buying, whether real or imagined, particularly following the CDD-Ghana survey report on the issue, has dominated political discourse for many weeks. The report which gives a clear indication that vote-buying is a reality in Ghana puts the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) as the guiltiest of this crime with 51%, the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), the biggest opposition party follows with 32%, whilst the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and Progressive People’s Party (PPP) tie at 4%.

Like all electoral frauds, most political parties continue to play the blame game. The question is what does vote buying entail? Why does the NDC lead in the CDD-Ghana survey on vote buying? Does incumbency advantage fuel the perception of vote buying? What is the position of the law on vote buying?   What is the position of Civil Society on the issue?

What is Vote Buying?
According to US Legal, Vote Buying is “any reward given to a person for voting in a particular way or for not voting. A vote buying bribe has a monetary value.”  The act is close to bribery and frowned upon in many democracies as it is a threat to fair elections and has the potential to collapse Ghana’s democratic system. Obvious examples include direct payments to voters, donations to a legislator’s campaign by special interest groups, the promise of specific programs or payments to voters subject to the election of a candidate.

 

What Does The Law Say?

There is a law on the phenomenon of vote buying in Ghana. Under the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, vote buying is an offence in Section 33 of the Representation of People Law, 1992. According to Section 33 of the law, titled, Bribery, a person commits the offence of bribery:

(a)           If he directly or indirectly acts through another person –

(i)                 Gives money or obtains an office for a voter in order to induce the voter to vote or refrain from voting.

(ii)               Corruptly does such an act on account of a voter having voted or refrained from voting.

(iii)             Makes a gift or provides something of value to a voter to induce the voter to vote in a certain way or to obtain the election of a candidate.

(iv)             If he advances or pays money or causes money to be paid to or for the use of a person with the intent that the money or part of it shall be expended in bribery at an election…,

(v)               if before or during an election he directly or indirectly, by himself or through another person acting on his behalf, receives, agrees or contracts for money, gift, a loan or valuable consideration or an office, place or employment for himself or for another person for voting or agreeing to vote, refrain or agreeing to refrain from voting.

 

Incumbency Advantage and Vote Buying?

Before the CDD-Ghana survey results were made public, the NPP, through the Acting General Secretary, Mr John Boadu, accused President John Dramani Mahama (of NDC) of abusing incumbency by distributing outboard motors and head pans procured with state funds to fisher folk in the Western Region as part of his campaign. However, the NPP itself has been caught in this web as the wife of the NPP flagbearer, Rebecca Akufo-Addo trended on social media  distributing some items to prospective voters.

But the focus has been on the President, perhaps because the line between party and state duties is not often clear. The Presidential candidate of the PPP, Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom, had earlier prevailed on president Mahama to stop using tax payers’ money to campaign for votes, an action he described as day light robbery, while Sheikh Mustapha Abdul Hamid, spokesperson for Nana Akufo Addo, the NPP flagbearer thinks the abuse of incumbency by president Mahama was palpable and inescapable. Similarly, Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), the local Chapter of Transparency International has also accused the president of vote-buying by sharing outboard motors, sewing machines and other freebies to rural folks for votes.

Mr. Daniel Batidam, the presidential advisor on governance and corruption however  refused the basis for the accusation of vote-buying against the ruling government and attributes the issue to confusion over the president’s mandate to deliver public services to the people. In his view, the delivery of the items at this time was a mere coincidence because they had been budgeted for and presented to Parliament.

 

How can vote-buying be addressed?

The problem of vote-buying remains a threat to Ghana’s democracy as it poses serious challenge to free and fair elections and the legitimacy of political office holders. The menace must therefore be confronted head-on in order to protect Ghana’s young democracy from collapse. However, the solution to the problem would depend on a few practical steps.

·         There is the need for a debate on what constitutes public activities and political campaign activities of the president, particularly during the campaign season. In the absence of this, all political parties must receive some form of state support, which is necessary for creating some level playing field for them.

·         In view of the fact that even political parties in opposition are perpetrators of vote-buying, there is the need for more voter education on the issue. The National Commission for Civic Education and Civil Society must mount a vigorous campaign to educate the electorates not to accept financial or material rewards before they vote for a particular candidate or party as this amounts to selling one’s conscience, a situation that has a serious implication for the ability for citizens’ demand of accountability.

·         There is also the need for a systematic monitoring of the issue of vote-buying during the campaign period for the purposes of naming and shaming political parties that engage in the practice in order to reduce or cure the canker.

[This Explainer Article was made possible with funding from NED]

 

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