Even though the dust over the 2020 elections is yet to fully settle, much learning needs to be done for any future elections. The declaration of this year’s election results left many tongues wagging. Despite being accused of possible mishandling in a number of places, the Electoral Commission, caught between the rock and a hard place, chose to declare the outcome not within its self-imposed twenty-four hours, but some forty-eight hours after polls officially closed.
After invoking God more times – eight – than repeating the votes obtained by any candidate in the elections, the head of the Commission made no comments about the main opposition party’s declared concerns ahead of her declaration. This was a marked departure from the practice, since the year 2000, where the returning officer for the presidential election has acknowledged such concerns during the announcement of polls.
In the famous 2012 declaration, Kwadwo Afari-Gyan proclaimed, “the name of the game is evidence.” Eventually, the opposition went to court in its bid to overturn the results in its favour. But the Supreme Court thought otherwise, and judges who ruled against then opposition’s claims, were not spared name-calling and insinuations of possible executive influence. Again, in 2008, he announced the results of the elections of the second round pending the votes in Tain, before Prof. Mills of blessed memory was pronounced winner of that long drawn-out battle for power.
Inherent in the chairperson of the Commission’s mandate is also to build cordial relations with the political parties, whether he/she likes them or not. Many observers know that but for deepening the already fractured relations, it beggars belief that the President chose Jean Adukwei Mensa ahead of many others who could have replaced her predecessor without arousing the suspicion that her selection did. Jean Adukwei Mensa and the NDC had running battles ahead of the 2016 elections over their perception of her actions and inactions. Therefore, to tap her for the referee’s position cannot be perceived as a mere coincidence.
If the NDC raised concerns with Jean Adukwei Mensa, which she decided not to amplify or even mention in her declaration, it must either be a cause for worry or become the new standard in our election declaration. Losing parties concerns can be ignored or treated as non-existent while declaration takes place, “in the name of God”.
I say without fear of contradiction that if the Charlotte Osei-led Commission had attempted any such thing, the opposition at the time would have feasted on her flesh with bare fingers, as she wailed uncontrollably without sympathy. It must be worrying that claims by the main opposition party of possible manipulation during the tabulation have been left to them alone. Memories from the ‘strong room’ in 2016 are still fresh in my mind. The NPP team led by Ken Ofori-Atta, demanded a duplication of every pink sheet faxed from the regions. Per my understanding, the EC had not planned to proceed that way, but the Chairperson obliged without any hesitation. Hours before the declaration, NPP’s Peter Mac Manu besieged the EC corridors demanding that the results be declared because Charlotte Osei was delaying declaration in order to fidget with the outcome in favour of John Mahama.
Fast forward to the 2020 elections. It was ok that the EC amended the time-tested process of receiving every pink sheet from the constituencies and vetting them at the national level before declaration. What was the point in burying such an important aspect of the process in a law rather than engage political parties at IPAC over same? This arrangement built trust and allowed parties to come to terms with their defeat, because as the saying goes, figures don’t lie. One can only imagine what would have happened if Jean Mensa’s predecessor, who she found time to chide over procurement during the declaration, had attempted any such thing.
Ken Ofori-Atta and John Atafua along with their tech guy, who drilled every result down to the minutest detail in the strong room, would have made mincemeat of her. There is no way they would have accepted this arrangement four years ago before Nana Addo was declared winner. So why now?
With hindsight, the evidence is that Charlotte Osei was more tolerant of an opposition that went to the extent of alleging she was previously a candidate on the ticket of the NDC, than her successor. Jean Adokwei Mensa seems to listen to only the appointing authority; otherwise, why would she insist on declaring election results she didn’t have within twenty-four hours? With all the experts at the Commission with decades of experience in election management, who was deceived that they could declare results without the accompanying errors within a day after polls? She either knew the results already or was dependent on a source she alone had.
The opposition NDC had a responsibility to police its votes at all polling stations, but that will not absolve the Commission from blame if even one vote for any candidate, including Henry Lartey, was added to another candidate’s tally. I agree with those who believe the NDC should have learnt its lessons from the 2016 elections, but the onus lies on the EC to ensure that no one is shortchanged in the process.
It is important that, going forward, both domestic and international observers do not spend their time to just observe elections in the cities and a few rural communities and pronounce verdict over the credibility or otherwise of polls. They must also police the process to its end if they are to be taken any seriously. Election Observer Missions have become an avenue for sponsored travels and tourism but if the objective is to cast a verdict on the credibility or otherwise of polls, then evidence abounds in Africa and elsewhere not to pronounce on an election just by visiting polling stations and witnessing counting because the real challenge as has been shown, is in tabulating those results.
Neither the parallel voter tabulation by the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) or individual media houses coverage can thwart any grand scheme designed to subvert the will of the people. Whereas the shoe may be on the left foot today, tomorrow, the right may be the one suffocating and the referee may not always succumb to the same group.
Let those with ears listen.
By Kobby Gomez-Mensah, a journalist and currently a researcher on governance. He’s a fellow of the African Migration and Governance Institute