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Revisiting the ‘Winner Takes All’ debate

There have been calls by many well-meaning Ghanaians for the abolition of what is called the ‘winner takes all’ political system. Kwesi Jonah of the Political Science Department of the University of Ghana has been strident in his call for the review of the system. Dr Gyampoh of the Institute of Economic Affairs has spoken on it on many platforms. The venerable Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra, Rev Palmer Buckle called for a review of the system.
In fact, the call for the review of the winner takes all approach to politics is not only because no party has all the competent people it needs to provide effective leadership to the country. It goes beyond that and includes the fact that all citizens, no matter their political alignment, have the right to participate equally in the governance of the country. And the concentration of virtually unlimited authority, to decide and act virtually unchecked, in a small group does not augur well for the development and unity of the country. And many other reasons which will be looked at below.
The effect of this approach in government is made worse in Ghana because the country is torn between the two main political parties that only tend to compete to bring each other down when they are in opposition and to keep the other perpetually in opposition when they are in power.
Political scientists argue that democracy is not necessarily the rule of the majority. In some elections in the US in the recent past, presidential candidates who had more of the popular vote, that is, had more voters preferring them for president, did not necessarily become presidents. In the 2000 presidential elections, Gore is said to have beaten Bush by over 543,000 votes in the popular vote even though Bush won in 30 states against Gore’s 20 states + Washington DC. In the most recent one, only last year, Hilary beat Donald by about three million votes and still lost.
In a parliamentary system of government, the party with the highest number of seats constitutes the government with its leader being the most powerful person in the country, the prime minister. But a party may win say 52 percent of the seats and yet the total number of voters who voted for it would be only, say, 45 percent of people who voted. The Prime Minister would have been conferred this all-powerful status by less than half of the people who voted. Even in cases where a president obtains an absolute majority in the popular vote, s/he may still not have the majority for many reasons. In the 2016 elections, President Akuffo Addo is said to have polled 53.80 percent of the presidential vote. But only 5,697,093 Ghanaians, out of a population of close to 30 million, voted for him.
From this process comes one person, or a small group of persons, who decide almost everything for the rest of the country including how to allocate resources. Despite the supposed checks on the authority of the president – approval of some proposals by Parliament, consultation, not approval, of Council of State, consultation with Councils of institutions etc – the power of this one person and his government is seemingly unlimited.
Those who are calling for a review of the winner takes all politics are thinking of an arrangement in which other political interests, with sizeable followings, have reasonable roles to play in making decisions concerning allocation of resources, appointments and so on. They are proposing an arrangement that can provide reasonable check to the seemingly absolute authority of government.
One may argue that the legislature is expected to provide this check. Admitted. But in this country in contexts in which the ruling party also has a majority in parliament, the need to involve some other political structure – not the judiciary – in governance is very important. This is because, despite the spirited defence put up by the legislators, members of the government in parliament will most often support rather than scrutinise proposals and intentions of the government. The admission by some members of the leadership of Parliament that they could have done more due diligence on some of the loan contracts put before the House, some say, is admission of the rubber stamp tag put on the House.
With one party taking up all the spoils of an election victory, the stakes have become very high in the country. And this may partly explain the deep divide between the two main parties and their supporters. It is said to partly explain the do-or-die attitude and the unreasonably high levels of tensions that have characterised the past elections; parties know that they have very limited roles to play in governance in the next four years if they lose an election. And, in fact, will pay dearly for this. You may have heard members of both NDC and NPP complain that life in opposition is not easy. You can imagine life for those who are in perpetual opposition by virtue of the fact that they do not belong to either of the two parties that have won elections since 1992. Or do not belong to any political party at all.
Unfortunately, the concentration of almost all power in the party that wins an election has led to governance in favour of only some citizens. In the past few months the NPP government has removed heads of state institutions including GPHA, TOR, GNPC, Cocobod, Free Zones Board, FDA, SSNIT, Ghana Gas, STC, the Director General of the Ghana Health Service and so on. The NDC which is crying about the loss of jobs as a result of the removal of these people did same with GNPC, TOR etc when they took over power in 2009.
A revised constitution can provide for an independent, professional body to appoint the heads of those agencies that are not security related or in positions such as the Governor of the Bank of Ghana who it may be argued cannot have a different political ideology from the government in power. The result of the intrusion of politics into these appointments is that the head of such institutions may not necessarily be the best; the best candidate may not be from the party in government. And if the consideration for appointment were taken from a small group and the search were wider than membership of a particular party, we could be improving the leadership of such state institutions.
Critics of the current system point out the abuse of the rights of some citizens to be treated equally in accessing jobs. If we practise a system that condones the right or authority of the party in government to replace employees on the basis of their political alignment, we are practising a system that denies citizens their right to employment. IIn fact, it is an open secret that employment into a lot of government institutions in the past decades depends on contact with a ‘powerful person’ in government. This violates the fundamental rights of citizens who are not party members.
The disturbing pattern of employment in favour of party members and sympathisers is said to find strong expression in recruitment into the security services. When the NDC, in 2009, sacked a whole batch of people who had been invited for training by the previous regime rumour had it that the party suspected the exercise had favoured the NPP and that they wanted to favour their own members. When some police recruits already in training were dismissed in early 2017, according to police PRO for presenting false documents, the NDC cried wolf, alleging it was done to get rid of NDC sympathisers. If the security forces are going to be the battle ground for NDC/NPP supporters, how cohesive, professional and cooperative will the forces be?
We need to revisit the issue and resurrect the debate on it. When it was mooted by civil society the two major parties in Ghana kicked against it. They both, undoubtedly, relished the joy of absolute power when in government. But the citizens that get caught in the power game between the two parties deserve better, no matter which party is in power. And they should not be forced to join parties before they can enjoy their rights as citizens.

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