Better Late Than Never

Elections in Africa are always a point of interest.  Whether it is the pressures of history and international observers, or simply the challenges of creating voting opportunities in rural areas, electoral commissions across the continent face challenges found nowhere else on earth.

As 7 December draws ever nearer, Ghana prepares for voting with the assistance of the Electoral Commission (EC).  Well, that depends on whom you speak with.  From journalists, to international observers, to the political parties, the EC has become more of a nightmare than a facilitator.  And yes, it may just end up affecting the general population, as well.

Rumblings began a few weeks ago, when the EC announced that it could not release the date when information regarding the biometric voters registration to political parties.  For large parties, such as National Democratic Congress (NDC) and New Patriotic Party (NPP), this does not pose a threat to the way they do business.  However, smaller parties, which do not operate with the same degree of resources, have found it challenging to tailor their final campaign pleas to the populous.

After much grumbling, the EC finally changed the release date from unknown to Monday 19 November, which leaves parties with a little over two weeks to make sense of the data, and develop their final drive around it.  However disappointing, it has become a case of “better late than never”.

And, “better late than never” may just be the phrase the country will need to adapt if they want information on how the elections are progressing on the day.  For the first time since 1992, the media will not be given early voting privileges along with essential service workers.  The Electoral Commission has backed themselves legally, however, it hardly makes for good governance.  The EC have essentially said that media slotted to cover the elections (and it can be assumed that just about every branch of the media will need to do this) must get in line early before going off to work.  Or, they can simply skip voting.

It is a tough call, and one rejected by both Ghanaians and foreign observers.  The EU has hinted that the inability of the press to do their job – or vote – would have changed their plans towards their official observation of the election.  As it stands, they had not planned a delegation, having regarded the election infrastructure as steady.   Alas, it is too late for them to change their minds.

So it leaves Ghana in the hands of the foreign press – at least until the local journalists can tick their ballots and rush as quickly as possible to their posts.  It is an astonishing opportunity loss at best.  After all, who better to report on Ghanaian events than those at the coal face?

Still, it is “better late than never” if a journalist only manages to capture the tail end of their assignment.  For some unlucky voters, it may be a case of never.  The EC has also mandated that biometric verification machine breakdowns at any polling station will mean voting suspension until it can be repaired or replaced.  Although this may be just another headache for voters in Accra, it will make an immense difference in rural areas where polling stations are not as conveniently spaced – and replacement machines will be difficult to organise.  When “never” becomes the best choice for voters, democracy falls on its face.  The country should hope that the Electoral Commission maintains a minimum standard of “better late than never”, though they really should demand more.

K.S.

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