President Akufo-Addo says his government will be working with the Electoral Commission to ensure the law allowing Ghanaians abroad to vote in the country’s elections becomes fully operational.
Addressing the Ghanaian community in Togo, President Akufo-Addo expressed disbelief that ten years after the Representation of People Amendment Law was passed, it is yet to be implemented. “We passed the law and I can’t understand why 10 years later it is dormant on the statute books,” he said reiterating an NPP 2016 campaign promise to revive ROPAL. Ghana has organised three general elections since the law was passed in 2007. But at each election, the elections governing body, the Election Commission, has signalled it is not ready to implement the law.
The then Electoral Commissioner Dr. Afari-Gyan remarked in 2007, “ROPAL is in stages and….we are in the preparatory stages.”
A decade later, the Electoral Commission’s 2016-2020 strategic plan states “there is currently no plan” to implement the law.
Nonetheless, the Commission has set a 2018 deadline to clearly define a roadmap for ROPAL implementation. The document mentions staffing and funding as some of the barriers to its implementation.
The signal from the President that “there is going to be an engagement by this govt” on ROPAL, is likely to renew public discussion on the controversial law.
It became a source of acrimonious opposition when the bill was first introduced into Parliament on June 14, 2005 under the former NPP government of President John Agyekum Kufuor. Three parties, the main opposition NDC, the CPP, PNC and a pressure group Committee for Joint Action were in vehement opposition to the law.
The CJA, led by veteran journalist Kwesi Pratt organised street protests to rally public disapproval of the law. A placard during one of the demonstrations called ROPAB, ‘Robbery of People Abroad Bill’.
The NDC in parliament led by Alban Bagbin, boycotted debate on the legislation.
ROPAL and matters arising
ROPAL amended Section 7 and 8 of PNDCL 284 which states that Ghanaians abroad are allowed to vote except they should have continuously stayed in the country at least six months to the elections.
It meant that interested citizens should have returned to Ghana by July ahead of the December general elections.
The EC only makes provision for persons who work in diplomatic missions or international organisations of which Ghana is a member. Their spouses are also allowed to vote. Students on government scholarship and members of the Army and Police on peacekeeping duties are eligible to vote.
The commission has said administrative challenges such as mode of voting, either by proxy, mail or at an embassy would have to be resolved.
Opposition parties are sceptical about having the vote conducted at the embassies fearing incumbency could interfere with the process.
Opposition position on ROPAL
Critics of the law have said, ROPAL is not a priority for the ordinary Ghanaian looking to government to resolve ‘bread and butter issues’.
They pointed out that for a country that relies on donor partners to fund its elections, extending the process to cover citizens outside Ghana is an unnecessary burden.
The General Secretary of the Peoples National Convention Bernard Mornah described it as “an inimical law that should not find space in our political system.”
Some argued that if Ghanaians in the Diaspora are interested in voting, travelling to Ghana to do so should not be too much to ask.
Founder of the NDC and former President Jerry Rawlings accused the government then, of planning to use the law to rig the 2008 elections.
The NDC also felt the NPP government was in a haste to pass the law and warned of possible conflict if ROPAL was used in the general elections in 2008.
The NPP pointed out other countries in Africa such as Mali, Senegal, Cape Verde and Botswana which allowed their citizens in the Diaspora to vote.
Advocates for the bill argued that Ghanaians abroad contribute to the growth of the economy through remittances and should be given the opportunity to vote.
Remittances to Ghana was estimated at about two billion dollars in 2015.
Majority Leader at the time Felix Owusu Agyapong criticised the NDC for opposing the bill for opposition sake.
“What we have observed is that whenever a bold decision is taken by this government to move the country forward the Minority always drag their feet. It happened with HIPC. It happened on the National Reconciliation Commission. We saw it with the National Health Insurance. And we are seeing it with the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill”.
The EC in 2008 doused the controversy somewhat after its chairman Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan stated the law was not going to be applied in the 2008 elections. He blamed partisan gridlock as part of the commission’s reasons for deciding to shelve the law.
“The voting rights of citizens abroad became an issue a long time ago during the NDC; at that time the NPP sang “over our dead body; now NPP says ROPAL is the best policy and the NDC is singing ‘over our dead body,'” he said.
Any effort by the current government to ressurect the law is certain to reignite debates over its necessity.