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Do not sell your political conscience for a “morsel of bread”.

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A Feature by Christiana Afua Nyarko, GNA

www.ghanareaders.com

Accra, May 27, GNA – Vote buying is a general issue recorded in many democracies around the world, including Ghana. Apart from undermining the integrity of the electoral processes, it has far-reaching consequences on national stability, governance, and national development.

As Ghanaians prepare for the polls on 7th December, it will be obvious that some members of the political class would engage in this outrageous activity with the intention of directing as many votes as possible to their favour.

On the other hand, some voters, due to one reason or the other, will willingly and readily sell their votes to these unscrupulous politicians.

Others will go as far as trading their “political conscience for a piece of bread” regardless of the negative impact the country’s democratic and developmental discourse.

The Forms of Vote Buying in Ghana

Vote buying is defined by Nana Boakye Yiadom in his December 2023 article titled: “Elections in Ghana: Vote buying and its implication on the country’s democratic governance”, as an economic exchange in which a voter sells his or her vote to the highest bidder (i.e. the politician who pays the most cash or gives the biggest goodies).

Kent Mensah in his December 2023 Article titled, “Ghana: will alleged vote buying taint 2024 elections, tarnish democratic credentials?” explains it better by stating that vote buying extends beyond elections because it influences policy decisions and the overall functioning of government institutions.

Vote buying in Ghana exhibits itself in several ways with each eroding the foundation of fair and free elections. These include cash payments, gifts and goods, development promises, real or promises of employment and appointment offers to intimidation and coercion.

In Ghana however, the most direct and common form is the cash payments where voters are given money in exchange for their votes. It is either done in an overt or covert form.

Here, the political candidates or their agents hand out cash to individuals or communities during party meetings, campaigns, or house-to-house rallies, durbars etcetera with the intention to influence and secure support.

Examples abound but it has largely been treated as mere allegation only to resurface when agents of losing candidates need a reason to explain away their defeat.

A known veteran journalist, turned a Parliamentary aspirant, Ken Agyei admitted to the Africa Report after losing the recent NPP primaries that he gave a sum of GH₵100 ($8.25) each to 850 delegates who voted.

In 2023, the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII) condemned the distribution of money and other items by some aspirants during the parliamentary primaries of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).

There have been incidents of arrest of voters during political party primaries and elections attempting to photograph vote thumbprints to send to candidates for financial rewards. The list goes on and on.

Beyond the cash, politicians also distribute food items such as bags of rice and oil; clothing such as wax prints, or household goods such as appliances like flatscreen television during party gatherings, campaigns, and election periods.

Earlier this year, a viral video widely circulated by Kwadwo Sheldon Studios showed a warehouse filled with NPP-embossed boxes containing flat screen television waiting to be shared during campaigns and elections this year.

Another way that Ghanaian politicians allegedly use to influence voting patterns are Development Promises.

Politicians frequently pledge infrastructure projects such as roads, streetlights, gutters, schools, hospitals, markets, jobs, to either the whole country or specific communities in return for their votes.

While these promises can be legitimate campaign pledges, only a fraction of these promises are fulfilled when they get power. Others, simply target specific communities (Often areas regarded as loyal to the ruling party) or deliver conditionally.

Some of these politicians, in a bid to build the confidence of the electorate in them, commence some of these projects only to complete it halfway or ultimately abandon them altogether.

Stories of aspirants taking back streetlights they installed or abandoning gutter and bridges they has begun to build after losing an election abound in some communities in Ghana.

For Employment opportunities, promises are often made to party loyalists, some foot soldiers, and even some voter communities of recruitment into jobs in the public sector, security services and the like.

Often, these jobs are given to families, close cronies, and top party members to the disappointment of the masses who voted with hopes of being remembered.

Intimidation and Coercion: Though not a ‘purchase’ in the traditional sense, the use of threats or force to secure votes can also be considered a form of vote buying. This is particularly evident in regions with lower literacy rates and higher poverty levels such as the northern parts of the country.

Though many Ghanaians have fallen for this trap, allowing politicians to sway their conscience with money, there is however a growing number of citizens who in the past, have taken these goodies but, decided not to let it cloud their decisions at the polls.

Civil society organisation such as CDD Ghana, CODEO and other groups formed by some citizens have vigorously campaigned to encourage citizens to shun politicians and parties involved in such practices.

Negative Effects on the Political and Democratic Process

All the forms explained above have severe consequences which undermines the democratic process in Ghana with several negative consequences.

Writers such as Michael Agbesi Kelly in his 27th October 2023 article titled: “Unveiling the dangers of vote buying during elections in Ghana advances the argument that, vote buying erodes electoral integrity as it creates an uneven playing field where richer candidates can effectively ‘buy their way into office’ thus sidelining or excluding more qualified but less affluent candidates.

These politicians practically buy not only the votes of the citizen but win influence over their “political conscience”.

It also weakens accountability, especially on the side of beneficiary political leaders. Politicians who buy votes often don’t feel the need to be accountable to their constituents.

Their primary concern centres on recouping campaign investments and vote buying investments instead of serving the public interest.

Vote buying diminished voter autonomy because the material incentives offered overshadowed informed policy preferences, further weakening the electorate’s role in shaping government policies and demanding accountability.

The results have always been poor governance, corruption, and political impunity.

Agbesi (2023) further argues that the above practice goes a long way to “undermine the principles of equal representation, exacerbate existing social divisions and hinders efforts to achieve inclusive development”.

Effects

The repercussions of vote buying go beyond the political realm, adversely affecting national development in several ways;

These are misallocation of resources where funds meant for essential developmental projects such as roads, free health insurance schemes, school buildings etc. are channeled to fund vote buying schemes.

Vote buying entrenches Poverty by promoting a cycle where politicians prioritize short-term appeasement over substantial economic reforms thus failing to address the root causes of poverty and underdevelopment.

It also perpetuates and worsens corruption and inefficiency because officials elected through vote buying are more likely to be corrupt in office.

Their quest to recover the costs of vote buying can lead to embezzlement of public funds and fraudulent procurement and state financial transactions which stifles economic growth and development.

Social Trust is undermined where vote buying is rampant as it erodes public trust in the democratic institutions and processes. Citizens become skeptical about the value of their vote and the legitimacy of their leaders, leading to political apathy and instability.

Voting is a major hindrance to Good Governance as it produces uncommitted and unaccountable leaders with zero love for public service. It allows less competent and more corrupt individuals to grab power, undermining policy implementation and public sector performance.

Conclusion

The canker, which seems to have eaten deep into the political fabric of the country is a critical issue that poses significant threats to not just to democratic integrity and national development, but the relative peace and stability enjoyed by the country.

How? Someone may ask. With terrorism in the subregion on the rise, the criminals involved, upon realizing the gullibility of some citizens coupled with the tough economic atmosphere could utilize this canker.

They give more juicy offers which could be very hard to refuse by many ordinary poverty-stricken Ghanaians and then the grab power to use it to further agenda thus creating chaos and instability.

Nonetheless, can this canker be curbed? Certainly! But, curbing it requires more comprehensive electoral reforms. Reforms can include constitutional non-political autonomy for the Electoral Commission to appoint its own head.

A vigorous public education via the mass media should be conducted to educate Ghanaians on the long-term repercussions of vote buying hence need to refrain from it.

Lastly, there should be a strict and determined enforcement of anti-corruption laws governing elections.

Practitioners of vote-buying should be called out, named, shamed, and made to face the legal consequences stipulated in the PNDC Law 284, articles 33 clause 1, sections a, b, c, d which prohibits the payment, receiving or promises of payments of cash, and favours to anyone in exchange for votes.

Article 34 clauses 1, sections a& b also prohibits the provision of goodies such as foods, drinks or entertainment in any shape or form to influence the vote of an individual.

Ghana can strengthen its democratic institutions, enhance governance, and foster sustainable national development if it tackles the canker now.

Change, though begins with leadership is fast tracked by citizens when they are determined not to join the bandwagon of wrongful compromise.

It is the civic duty of Ghanaians to frown upon vote buying first by agreeing not to be enticed by it as well as shaming politics who attempt to seduce them with such offers.

The Ghana News agency urges Ghanaians as we near the polls not to further trade this country’s destiny via the exchange their political conscience for a “morsel of bread”.

GNA

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