Lawyer Eric Ɖelanyo Aliƒo, concerned about the worrying notion by some people that the political activities of citizens may be unnecessarily regulated, urges the Government, the Electoral Commission, and Political Parties to respect the Constitution of Ghana and Democratic Principles and allow citizens to freely embark on political activities at any time of their choice. He discusses the subject in the following lengthy and comprehensive article.
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QUESTION: WHEN IS IT APPROPRIATE FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH AMBITION FOR POLITICAL OFFICE TO START REACHING OUT TO VOTERS?
Campaigning for a political office may take various forms. Here, I am talking mainly about campaigning for national political offices but not internal political party positions, such as party executives at various levels, although, those may be covered as well, to some extent, by this article.
Reaching out to voters may start with exploratory meetings and contacts with voters, before an announcement, a declaration, or a notice to the general public will be made of one’s intention to run for an office, and before it will finally blossom into full campaigning in the form of rallies, public forums, and other public activities, including advertisements targetted at voters to canvass directly for their support and votes. In recent times, most of these activities may be effectively carried out online, without much hustle.
These activities are generally, part of the fundamental rights of citizens, which rights are entrenched in our Constitution and cannot just be taken away from citizens or vitiated in any way, whether through legislation, internal party rules and regulations, or even by the use of force, unless by operation of law through due process.
The pertinent questions here are: can some or all of these events, and particularly, their timing be regulated, however, by the State or political parties, and if yes, to what extent can they be regulated or controlled for whatever purposes? These are questions that have engaged my attention for some time now, and for which I am doing this article.
Often when potential contenders for political offices begin their various political activities, and incumbent officeholders feel jittery and threatened, you would hear people, especially those who support, or are aligned to the incumbents, begin to complain that it is too early for new aspirants to start “campaigning” because it may unsettle incumbents, divide the ranks of their political parties, and break the unity in the party, etc. These complaints are obviously instigated by incumbents who are usually on tenterhooks as a result of the exploits of their potential challengers.
If the new aspirants do not become intimidated enough by these signals and subtle warnings, they may subsequently be harassed or cautioned more directly by many, including their colleagues, friends, other highly-placed and respectable personalities, and these potential aspirants may even be threatened with disciplinary actions such as suspensions or disqualification later during the vetting process for the positions, etc.
Sadly, there are no clear rules anywhere to indicate which particular conduct the parties are scornful of, or which they seek to proscribe just in our thoughts and imagination. At this point, they will consider every activity as “campaigning” as long as a nervous incumbent feels uncomfortable about them. If the complaining incumbent is a favorite of those who manage a political party, and that party is the ruling party, it shall even be worse for the new aspirant. This is a very sad development in the management of political parties in our democracy, and it needs to be addressed urgently.
In this article, all of us, including the administrators of our political parties may learn a little further about how these issues may be handled in a manner that would not infringe the rights of citizens while allowing true democracy to develop and thrive, and keeping our political parties united and attractive to all of their members, and particularly the youth, who have a great deal of potential and energy.
Per Ghana’s 1992 Constitution, Political Parties May Not Do the Following:
Ghana is a democratic state and is obliged to run a constitutional government and effectuate universal democratic principles. Constitutionalism is all about using Constitutions to limit the powers and actions of governments and political actors (including political parties) by law. It is therefore my considered view that political parties cannot operate in a manner to infringe the constitutional rights, interests, and welfare of their members who are citizens of Ghana.
For instance, political parties cannot under any circumstances stop any individual citizen from going around a country to announce that he or she intends to contest an election in the future when political parties open nominations for such contests. This applies equally to parliamentary and presidential primaries to select candidates for national elections.
Under our Constitution, individual citizens must be able to freely hold town hall meetings or public forums to declare their intentions and plan to the people at any time, and must be able to express themselves freely and explain to the electorate why they desire to contest an election and to represent them in government.
Citizens must be equally free to display posters publicly, and online, and must be able to consult widely with voters anytime. The limitations that political parties may lawfully impose on these activities must be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure that they do not impair the abilities of citizens to exercise their constitutional rights freely. Some of what political parties may be able to do lawfully to regulate some of these activities within their parties have been mentioned in the conclusion part of this discussion.
The activities I am concerned about here are the fundamental constitutional rights, which citizens are entitled to, and which governments and political parties are required to respect. Political parties may not in any circumstances punish their members for having engaged in such political activities at any time of the year.
Article 55 of Ghana’s Constitution, 1992, which provides for the organization of political parties, in subsection (5), states as follows:
The internal organization of a political party shall conform to democratic principles and its actions and purposes shall not contravene or be inconsistent with this Constitution or any other law.
It is provided also in article 55(2) that every citizen, who is qualified to vote can join a political party of his or her choice. From the above provisions, it is clear that political parties in Ghana are opened for all citizens of voting age, and their internal organization is required to conform to 1. Democratic Principles; and 2. The provisions of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana.
In interpreting and applying the provisions of the 1992 Constitution, article 34(1) of the Constitution directs political parties to be guided by the provisions of The Directive Principles of State Policy, which includes article 35(1), whose opening sentence states that “Ghana shall be a democratic state dedicated to the realization of freedom and justice.
Article 12(1) also commands all organs of government and its agencies, and where applicable, “all-natural and legal persons in Ghana” to respect and uphold the fundamental human rights of citizens, which are enshrined in the Constitution. Political parties are very much part of the organs of the state, and entities, which come under this command.
Articles 21(1)(a), (e), (g), and 21(3) provide the various rights of citizens, which include the freedom of speech and expression; freedom of association; freedom of movement; freedom to participate in political activities, etc., all of which empower citizens to embark freely—without any hitch, intimidation, or threats of punishment—on political activities, which have been earlier mentioned.
Article 21(3) for instance, states as follows:
All citizens shall have the right and freedom to form or join political parties and to participate in political activities subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a free and democratic society and are consistent with this Constitution.
Here again, it is emphasized by the Constitution that any laws or qualifications that may affect the participation of citizens in political activities have to be consistent with the 1992 Constitution. It has thus been demonstrated in this section that the constitutional authority of citizens to participate freely in political activities without fear of harassment is paramount to our democratic process and constitutionalism.
In the next section, I shall discuss a few relevant democratic principles, which political parties in Ghana are bound by the 1992 Constitution to conform to in their internal operations and organization.
Political Parties Must Abide by Democratic Principles:
Let’s recall the opening sentence of Article 55(5) of Ghana’s Constitution, 1992, which states that: The internal organization of a political party shall conform to democratic principles….”
My little reading on this subject reveals to me that democracy requires that each individual be free to participate in the political activities of communities with self-government. All adult citizens must have the right to vote to elect officials to represent them in government, and most adult citizens must have the right and freedom to run for political office regardless of gender, ethnicity, and levels of their wealth. Political freedom, actually, lies at the heart of the concept of democracy.
Citizens’ participation in the democratic process may take many forms, including running for office, voting in elections, debating issues, attending community meetings, forming or joining voluntary organizations, and protesting. It is important for everyone to have the right to organize peaceful meetings. For those who want to run for office, there must not be unreasonable restrictions to frustrate them from participating freely. Those in authority should not place unnecessary obstacles in the way of citizens who are desirous to run in elections to make it difficult for them to run the full length and to the best of their abilities.
There must be transparency in the electoral processes, and there must be true and fair competition always. In fact, citizens’ participation builds a stronger democracy, and so, to extend the frontiers of democracy, citizens’ participation must not be seen only as a right. It must be a duty; a civic duty, which the authorities must conscientiously encourage among citizens. These are the relevant tenets or principles of democracy that the Constitution demands of our political parties to protect and promote. These are the principles that must guide the operations of political parties for them to build a stronger and better democracy for all.
The foregoing is not just the idea or imagination of someone as to how political parties must be run to satisfy the selfish interests of some persons or a group of people. These are constitutional prescriptions, backed by law, and enforceable by the courts to entrench our democracy. The principal purposes for establishing democratic governments are the protection and promotion of the rights, interests, and welfare of citizens. Accordingly, when article 35(1) of our Constitution declares that Ghana shall be a democratic state dedicated to the realization of freedom and justice. .., it is understandable that the rights, freedoms, and interests of citizens shall be guarded jealously by the government and all political parties.
Conclusion: Political Parties may Regulate Just to a Limited Extent
Having said the foregoing, it is important to state that political parties may regulate their internal operations only to the extent that it shall not infringe the constitutional rights of citizens. For instance, while it shall violate the rights of potential contestants in an election to ask them not to hold public meetings with citizens at certain times, political parties can rightfully direct that such meetings must not be held in the name of the parties, and party apparels and paraphernalia may not be displayed at the meetings. Political parties may also banish the use and display of party symbols at certain times.
Beyond these, I do not see much of what political parties may lawfully do to regulate the political activities of citizens, which activities are parts of the rights and freedoms the citizens are entitled to under our Constitution and democratic principles. Mostly, when administrators of political parties are in haste to speak against the early efforts of some of their members in preparing for contests, it is invariably the results of some incumbents and/or other potential contestants, who may be somehow connected and influential, being worried and having complained.
But seriously, I don’t think incumbent officeholders must be worried at all that others who want to challenge them for their positions have started reaching out to voters, or have started criticizing them too early. Generally, incumbent officials do not also deserve to be protected from competition at all. They already have a tremendous advantage over all others. In the case of Members of Parliament, their every work demands that they perform duties both in Parliament and their constituencies, so they cannot give excuses that because they are working in Parliament all others who want to challenge them must wait for them until a whistle is blown.
If they are doing their jobs very well, they shall always be in better touch with the voters, and they must have nothing at all to worry about. They must develop the right attitude and welcome fierce competition in whatever form as long as it is lawful and legitimate. This is how they shall work in concert with all to make their parties more attractive to others, instead of seeking only their selfish interests regardless of the likely effect on the strength and fortune of their parties.
I appreciate all who have spent time reading my rather long piece. Thank you.
Eric ƉELANYO Aliƒo
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