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Between 2018 and 2019, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government pursued the amendment of Article 55(3) and 243(1) as part of its local government reforms.
Unfortunately, the December 17 referendum was called off due to the absence of national consensus on the amendment. Given the impasse that surrounded the joint amendment of the two separate but complementary and mutually reinforcing articles, it has become instructive to clarify the functions and relationship between them.
While Article 55 (3) prohibits political parties from participating in local elections and government, Article 243 (1) on the other hand vests the powers of appointment of Chief Executives in the President. Consequently, amending Article 243(1) liberalises the space in executive arm of government and creates more elective positions. On the other hand, the amendment of Article 55(3) will make the election inclusive by enabling political parties to participate in local level elections.
This will ultimately mean that there will be more than one political party within the executive arm of government and therefore cure the winner-takes-all (WTA) system in the country. The amendment of the two articles means that political parties will compete for an extra 260 positions in addition to the presidency within the executive arm of government. Clearly, this will end the WTA system in the executive and promote inclusiveness, cooperation and collaboration among political parties. It also has the potential of nurturing smaller parties whose relevance and fortunes continue to diminish under the current system and give them real governing experience at the local level.
Therefore, the successful amendment of the two articles will trigger a transformational reform of the hybrid executive governance regime in a manner that will remove all the barriers to developing a fully liberal democratic multiparty governance system in Ghana. It has the potential to alter the power relations between the central and local governments and devolve more executive, administrative and financial powers and resources of the central government to the regions, districts and communities. Effectively, the introduction of political parties into local government is likely to spark competition for development between the parties at the local level as witnessed at the national level.
Regrettably, there are concerns that allowing political parties to participate in local government will not foster national cohesion but rather divide the country at the local level. Whereas these fears may be genuine, there is no evidence to support this assertion. If the parties have not divided the country at the national level, why do we assume they will do so at the local level. In fact, to argue this way will be tantamount to calling for the abolishment of multiparty democracy in the country altogether.
Rather, if the experience in parliament is anything to go by, then working together brings collaboration and cooperation which instils trust and confidence among the parties. This will be no different between the multiparty system as witnessed at the national level from the proposed multiparty elections at the local level.
Currently, the country has witnessed a split parliament with an opposition Speaker and yet the same parties have not divided the country. Moreover, national cohesion is strengthened by cooperation and collaboration by diverse groups and interests working together.
Admittedly, political parties under the Fourth Republic have not lived up to expectation to warrant their inclusion in local government, hence the understandable aversion and disenchantment manifested towards them.
However, this negative and cynical behaviour of political parties is as a result of the failure of the state to properly regulate them, as parties in Ghana do not have a robust regulatory framework or regime. Evidently, the 1992 Constitution, Political Parties Act, 2000 (Act 574) and other pieces of legislation, which are expected to guide their activities have either not been enforced or in some cases woefully inadequate to regulate them.
To solve the problems with the parties will entail not only the enforcement of the current legislation but also legal and institutional reforms which will transform them from being election machines to development-oriented institutions. It also means reorienting them for multiparty decentralised local governance from which they have been excluded for the past 61 years. This will certainly not be achieved with the amendment of Article 243(1) alone but together with the amendment of Article 55 (3) and consequential amendments and reform of the local government system and political parties.
There cannot be a successful devolution of more power and resources without political parties being part of the decentralised local governance system, which is seen as the training ground for future national leaders.
The author is a research officer at the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG).