View Full Version : A ruling not in the supreme interest of the nation

11th September 2013, 02:34 AM
In a 5-4 ruling, the nine-panel Justices of Ghana’s Supreme Court on August 29 dismissed the petition filed by the NPP, challenging the validity of the Dec 7, 2012 presidential election won by the current president, John Mahama.

Nana Akuffo-Addo, the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) challenger and petitioner called the president to concede defeat and congratulated him. He also called on his supporters to accept the verdict, though he disagreed with it, and later announced that he was going to take some time off politics to rest. Thus comes to a peaceful end an 8-month litigation saga that has gripped the nation. It sends a powerful message to the rest of Africa and cements Ghana’s reputation as a model democracy.

Naturally, not all will be pleased with the verdict but all participants in this saga deserve a good round of applause in the way they comported themselves. The people, who displayed a high sense of political maturity and a tremendous amount of self-restraint and discipline, remained calm and peaceful throughout the entire ordeal. Recall that an election dispute and court challenge plunged our neighboring country, Ivory Coast, into violence and civil war in November 2010.

The stakes were also high in Ghana but the people distinguished themselves. Nana Akufo-Addo earned plaudits for being an eminent statesman, accepting the verdict and urging his supporters to abide by it. The Supreme Court Justices who deliberated on the petition, must also be commended for the high degree of transparency they allowed into the proceedings by permitting live radio and television broadcasts – a level of transparency never seen in Africa before.

Naturally, the ruling will not end all debates and disagreements. To be sure, they will rage on for some time to come – no matter which way the SC had ruled. Obviously, both parties – the NDC and the NPP – expected the Justices to rule in their favor and one side was bound to lose. But in all this kerfuffle, it is important to distinguish between short-term partisan interest and long-term national interest. The national interest is supreme and should trump partisan interests.

Political parties come and go but Ghana, as a nation, endures. Unfortunately, the August 29 ruling serves short-term political interest but not the supreme national interest. As such, there is still unfinished business to accomplish. It would have made little difference if the Justices had ruled the other way, i.e. in favor of the petition.

I would have preferred, not a re-run but a re-vote of both the presidential and parliamentary elections in a year’s time to allow vital reforms at the EC to be carried out. The parliamentary elections were beset with irregularities too. Currently, there are 38 challenges in the courts. It would have served the national interest if the SC had kicked the issue back to EC to fix its own problems.

To be fair, the Justices faced a formidable task and were caught between a rock and a hard place. The Constitution gave them little leeway or room to maneuver. It only authorized them to adjudicate on the petition and rule on the validity of the election of the president. They could either uphold or annul it – a very limiting choice.

Ruling either way was bound to displease half the electorate. But knowing this reality should have necessitated thinking outside the narrow Constitutional box by referring the issue back to the EC. As it stands now, the ruling will have some blowback. It will cost the Justices some loss of credibility as they have inserted themselves knee-deep into the political imbroglio. Further, in their precedent-setting ruling, they have thrown their doors wide open to adjudicate all future electoral litigation.

The ruling does not serve the national interest on several fronts. First, the nation was hungering for peace and unity. As such, any sort of “compromise” ruling would have brought the nation together. After the December elections and prior to the Supreme Court ruling, the country was bitterly polarized. Indeed, there was a constant drumbeat of calls and exhortations for peace and unity broadcast on the radio, television and the print media. In fact, two days before the ruling, there was a football match, dubbed "Peace Match 2013," whose purpose was to show unity and help cool tensions. One therefore expected a ruling that would echo this sentiment and bring Ghanaians together.

But, alas, the ruling showed that the Supreme Court itself is as deeply polarized as the nation. Even worse, the announcement of the verdict itself was bungled. There was an inexplicable 4-hour delay in announcing the verdict, fueling speculation that something fishy was going on behind the scenes. Then Justice Atuguba announced a 6-3 verdict dismissing the petition. A day later, the verdict was changed to 5-4. Honestly, this kind of flip flop does not inspire confidence in the Supreme Court and makes it look like a clone of the Electoral Commission. Imagine the Justices, ruling on a petition challenging an election vote count when they themselves couldn’t even get their own 9-vote count correct.

Second, the ruling leaves the electoral rules in a massive state of confusion. There were 6 specific grievances on the petition sheet:
• Duplicate serial numbers
• Over-voting
• Voting without biometric verification,
• Duplicate Polling Station Code
• Unknown Pooling Stations
• No Signature of Presiding Officer

As the table below shows, there was no unanimous ruling on the three most cardinal elements of the electoral rules: Biometric verification, over-voting and signatures of presiding officers.