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December 17 referendum put on hold

The Akufo-Addo Government has cancelled the December 17 national referendum which was meant to decide on an amendment of Article 55 (3) of the Constitution to enable political parties to sponsor candidates during local level elections.

This was announced by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo on Sunday, December 1, 2019.  As the referendum day drew closer, there was a noticeable split among major stakeholders and  observers.  “It is with deep regrets that I have given instructions to the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development who will spear this process on behalf of government with commendable vigor and dynamism to abort the process and seek the withdrawal of the Bills for the amendment of the constitution both in respect of Article 243(1) and Article 55(3),” President Akufo-Addo announced in a broadcast to the nation, Sunday night.

After a seeming consensus on a YES vote in the referendum, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) started advocating for a NO vote. The NDC was worried that an amendment will open district assemblies and unit committees to “the needless NDC-NPP polarisation.” The NDC’s flagbearer, John Mahama also backed his party’s position suggesting that an amendment of Article 243(1) of the constitution was more necessary. Per Article 243 (1) of the 1992 Constitution, District Chief Executives for every district are to be appointed by the President with the prior approval of not less than two-thirds majority of members of the assembly present and voting at the meeting.

The General Secretary of the NDC, Johnson Asiedu Nketia further claimed the government had not held any consultations with the party on the referendum. The governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) was in favour of a YES vote saying the amendment to the constitution will bolster Ghana’s democracy. Traditional leaders who were also in disagreement over the need for partisan participation in the district level elections. The National House of Chiefs in a statement issued and signed by its President Togbe Afede XIV argued that decentralisation would negatively be affected by the control of local parties.

But the Paramount Chief of the Akyem Abuakwa traditional area and President of the Eastern Region House of Chiefs, Okyenhene Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin II urged Ghanaians to ignore calls for a NO vote in the national referendum. There had already been indications that traditional leaders were not on the same page after Chairman of the Governance Committee of the House, Ogyeahoho Yaw Gyebi II of Sefwi Anhwiaso in the Western Region told Citi News that the stance of the National House of Chiefs did not represent the collective view of the chiefs. While the debates on YES or NO votes lingered, a new Afrobarometer report disclosed that over 50 percent of Ghanaians said they were not aware of the upcoming referendum.

Of the less than 42 percent of Ghanaians who are aware of the referendum, the report said men, the highly educated, and elderly citizens were more aware of the referendum than women, citizens with less schooling, and young adults. Awareness of the referendum increased with respondents’ level of education. It reached 62 percent among those with post-secondary education, compared to 35 percent to 42 percent among those with less schooling. Men, comprising 52 percent, are more likely to be aware of the referendum than women; 32 percent. Awareness increases with age, ranging from 40 percent of youth to 47 percent of those over age 55.

The amendment of Article 55(3) will also pave way for political parties’ participation in the District Level Election. Article 55(3) states that “subject to the provisions of this article, a political party is free to participate in shaping the political will of the people, to disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character and sponsor candidates for elections to any public office other than to District Assemblies or lower local government units’’.

Consequently, Parliament will also amend Article 243 (1) for the mandate to appoint MMDCEs by the President to change, for the electorate rather elect them as their superintendents at the local level.  Article 243 (1) states that: “There shall be a District Chief Executive for every district who shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of not less than two-thirds majority of members of the Assembly present and voting at the meeting.”

The outcome of the referendum will have either of the following outcomes: If the electorate votes YES, the election of MMDCEs, Assembly and Unit Committee Members in the near future will be on a partisan basis. If Ghanaians vote NO, then the election of these candidates for the local level elections will be on a non-partisan basis as being practised now.



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