On February 26, 2015, the Economy of Ghana Network (EGN) of the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) organized a workshop on the theme “Ghana’s Sixth Non-Partisan District Assembly Election”. The workshop was situated in the Political Science thematic area of the EGN, and gathered stakeholders concerned with Ghana’s political organization and development, to examine the nature of the district assembly elections and to consider the debate about the feasibility of running a non-partisan local government election.
Dr. Emmanuel Debrah, head of the Political Science Department, University of Ghana and subject matter specialist for the Political Science thematic area of the EGN gave a presentation on the workshop theme - Ghana’s Sixth Non-Partisan District Assembly Election.
Dr. Debrah stated that, contrary to theoretical assumptions in support of non-partisan local government elections, citizen’s interest and participation in non-partisan local government elections has always been low – going by the first five rounds of local government elections – as compared with partisan general elections. While the latter is reported to record as much as 70 percent citizen participation, the former has recorded performance levels as low as 30 to 40 percent. The presentation further highlighted other flaws of non-partisan local level elections: that it encourages personality rather than issue-oriented campaigns, that it enforces local cleavages.
He pointed out that politics plays a fundamental role in shaping political debate – it gives a sense of direction and purpose to an election and gives people a clearer sense of the agenda and goals of the candidate. Arguing in support of a partisan district level election, Dr. Debrah emphasized the points that: non-partisan balloting would make voters less informed, less likely to vote and would create a less competitive atmosphere; where party affiliations are kept off the ballots, citizens enter the voting booth with no information; voters behave as if they have no idea about what’s going on, and they turn out in far smaller numbers.
Partisanship is reality
He stated that despite – what should be – the nonpartisan stance of local government elections, politics has stealthily woven its way into the fabric of local level elections, with political parties and their choice candidates adopting cunning means to influence the elections through partisan means. Partisanship in district level elections was therefore a reality, and must be addressed with a constitutional reform to “retune the election to the party [partisan] frequency mode,” he concluded.
Discussions, to a great extent, agreed with the suggestion of a shift to a partisan district level elections. Many participants were of the view that this would lead to higher participation and a more vibrant electoral process. More importantly, it would help augment accountability of office holders.
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