Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, a former chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC), has criticized the commission for its decision to abandon the guarantor system for the ongoing voter registration process.
He claimed in a statement sent exclusively to the Daily Graphic that the EC’s argument that the guarantor system was ineffective and the Ghana Card should be the exclusive method of registration was unpersuasive.
According to Dr. Afari-Gyan, nothing barred the EC from doing the same for the voter registration process and strengthening that system the way it desired it, as long as the National Identification Authority (NIA) permitted the guarantor regime in the registration for the Ghana Card.
“What prevents the commission from instituting, in the upcoming constitutional instrument (CI), a guarantor regime as robust as or even more robust than the one being used by the NIA for doing the Ghana Card?” he queried.
The EC is attempting to lay a Proposal before Parliament in accordance with Article 11(7) of the 1992 Constitution to control the ongoing voter registration process.
According to the article, the CI will go into effect after 21 sitting days unless the house annuls it by a vote of not less than two-thirds of all Members of Parliament, among other things. The CI seeks to make the Ghana Card the only identification document for the exercise and the only method for registration (MPs).
As part of the pre-laying of the CI last month, the chair of the EC, Jean Adukwei Mensa, stated in front of the legislature that using the Ghana Card as the only registration document will guarantee that only qualified Ghanaians registered to vote.
A step like that, she claimed, would offer the nation a reliable electoral register and improve its electoral system.
The head of the EC claimed that because the guarantor mechanism was open to abuse and compromised the validity of the electoral roll, her organization abandoned it.
“The challenges with the guarantor system are that it opens the door for registered voters or guarantor contractors to guarantee/vouch for persons who are less than 18 years and it allows the guarantors to vouch for foreigners. Such unqualified persons used the door of the guarantor system to try to get onto the register.
“Truth be told, the guarantor system was not the best under any circumstances, but we did not have other options, since a significant number of people did not possess the Ghana Card at the time. Even, then, we had 10 million Ghanaians using the Ghana Card to back their citizenship at the time of registration,” she said.
Not just Dr. Afari-Gyan has criticized the Commission over the proposed CI.
The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), a civil society organization, have criticized the CI, particularly in light of the EC’s decision to abolish the guarantor system, which up until now had allowed a registered voter to vouch for the citizenship of a person who was trying to register to vote.
In order to strengthen the opposition to the new law, the NDC has referred to the CI as “obnoxious and a menace to the country’s democracy” and instructed its MPs not to skip sessions of Parliament.
According to the CDD, the end of the guarantor system would make it very difficult for many Ghanaians to register, which would ultimately violate their right to vote under the constitution.
“The current CI 126 allows for a guarantor to guarantee for up to five people; this can be reduced to three,” it said.
Criticism by Afari Gyan
The EC’s longest-serving Chairperson, Dr. Afari-Gyan, continued to express his disapproval of the registration process’s usage of the Ghana Card as the only source document.
In an earlier interview with the Daily Graphic in August of last year, he claimed that making the Ghana Card the only form of identification would deny voting rights to millions of eligible Ghanaians, and that the EC’s action was therefore contrary to electoral inclusivity, fairness, and justice.
In his latest criticism, he stated that he was not opposed to the adoption of the Ghana Card and agreed with the EC that it was crucial and would do much to purify the electoral roll.
“I think that it is grossly unfair and misleading to try to create the impression that the debate over whether or not, as of now, the Ghana Card should be the only basis for a Ghanaian citizen to be registered as a voter revolves wholly around how useful the card is. I have not heard anybody saying that the Ghana Card is not a good thing to have or use,” he said.
He claimed that the reason for his disagreement was that the EC was gradually making the Ghana Card the sole valid form of citizenship, which is a requirement for registering to vote.
In his view, giving the Ghana Card the only method of registration meant the EC was attempting to characterize individuals without the card as not Ghanaians able to vote. He argued that the Ghana Card did not confer citizenship on anyone but rather recognized that citizenship.
“In my view, as of now, it cannot be reasonably assumed that every Ghanaian of voting age has the Ghana Card, or can get one well ahead of the next elections,” he said.
“In fact, given that even under continuous registration there is a cut-off period, during which time one can register as a voter but cannot vote in the following election, I think it is far too early yet to make a fetish of Ghana Card as the only basis for registering a Ghanaian citizen as a voter,” Dr Afari-Gyan averred.