Election Security a Challenge for Ghana Electoral Commission in 2016 General Elections
The Centre for African Democratic Affairs (CADA) over the past four years has taken keen interest in following up all the electoral related activities by the electoral stakeholders in Ghana including the just ended Limited Voter Registration Exercise (LVRE) that took place between 28 April and 8 May 2016.
CADA will like to bring to bear the Ghana Electoral Commission’s (EC) role in Election Security going into 2016 general elections. CADA also believe that it is important to state from the outset that the intent is to impress upon EC and the country’s Security Forces to work together to incorporate stringent security management for electoral processes into its existing core activities to steer 2016 Ghana general election from violence.
The perception gathered so far from public discourse after the 2014 general elections in the media, press releases and conferences and demonstrations by political parties and expert opinions shared by Security Analysts as well as the observation of the LVRE point to the fact that the 2016 general elections, if care is not taken, is likely to be marred by chaos and violence. Electoral violence during bye-elections and other electoral related functions within this past four years were all laced with avoidable violent incidences orchestrated by ‘militant groups’ supported by known political parties. But surprisingly there was neither arrest nor prosecution of any kind, this has over the period emboldened perpetrators and have now become daring and acting with impunity even in the presence of the state security.
The irony is that in the midst of the abhorrence and condemnation of these incidences by Ghanaians, the EC will look into the eyes of Ghanaians, and declare the election results as free, fair and transparent with the usual saying ‘the security incidence did not affect the elections’ creating the impression that the violence is permissible. To say the least, this attitude of turning the blind eye is unacceptable and only serve to dent the image of EC in the eyes of the international community and some concern citizens in the country. It is also saddened to note that some Domestic Election Observers who go out to observe, particularly the general elections and bye-elections always come out to say that elections as usual were free and fairs to concord the results declared by the EC.
CADA will like to remind the country’s sole Electoral Management Body that the 1992 constitution states that the EC of Ghana “shall not be subject to the control or direction of any authority——”. This by extension and in the opinion of CADA means that no private or state institution can directly or indirectly get involved in matters of elections without the express permission of EC and once the permission is given, EC must have oversight responsibility to ensure that activities, actions and inactions of any private, public institution or individual involved in elections do not impinge on the integrity of the electoral process.
It is the considered opinion of CADA that EC has enormous responsibility to strictly provide assistance to the Ghana Police Service to guide their activities and actions before, during and after elections, irrespective of the fact that Ghana Police is a State institution with primary responsibility over state internal security for the simple reason that election security is a specialised area and not all security personnel have this requisite experience to be left on their own and also not allow the Police to be just establishing Electoral Security Task Force without leading the group to function effectively.
CADA believes that over the years it is the EC’s neglect to supervise the Police activities during electoral processes that has fuelled the perception that influential politicians and those in power do take advantage to manipulate the electoral process, the police and expose it to public ridicule. For instance EC knows better, the specific role Security Agencies must play, when it comes to elections and that, it is the EC that must give the Police the tasking orders.
Security management procedures during threat to elections are handled differently from existing police mechanisms for dealing with other security situations. Threat to elections is defined as any activity, event or actions that are intended to have adverse effect on election staff, facilities or equipment as opposed to security risk, defined as those events or circumstances which exist in the operational environment but are not purposely directed towards election interests. These are two different scenarios; the latter can be dealt with in normal police operation.
In the opinion of CADA, election threats come in different forms and may include intimidation, registering minors and foreigners, multiple registration, etc. during voter registration exercise or targeting of election officials, intimidation or harassment of journalists, incitement to violence in the media or public, protecting, expanding, or delineating turf or ‘no-go areas’, attacks on election rallies or candidates, intimidation of voters to compel them to vote or stay away, physical attacks on election materials such as snatching and destruction of ballot boxes, armed clashes among political parties, violent clashes among groups of rival supporters, vandalism and physical attacks on property of opponents, targeted attacks against specific candidates or political parties, attacks on rivals who have either won in elections or were defeated, violent street protests and efforts by armed police to maintain or restore order, tear gas, firing on protestors, attacks by protestors on property or the police, escalation and perpetuation of ethnic or sectarian violence.
Going into the 2016 general elections, CADA will like to mention that EC should appoint an Elections Security Officer or make a request to the Police to get an experienced staff seconded to it as a Focal Point, to oversee the design and implementation of a country-wide security plan in coordination with the Security Agencies. EC will then make sure the political, civil and human rights of the citizenry, a cardinal principle in election security are protected.
In addition to above his function should include coordination of EC security activities at the EC Headquarters level, the supervision of field security, as well as the provision of all appropriate operational briefings and training for the security agencies, the establishment of a Joint Elections Operations Centre (JEOC) at the EC headquarters or any appropriate location in Accra and replicated in the regions and districts to serve an equivalent function at the local level;
Monitor and ensure thorough adherence to the security plan, to respond to the wide variety of envisioned security scenarios to which the election process may be exposed. If EC will ensure strict compliance, security personnel will not have the time to work for any faceless politician;
To keep a close liaison and coordination with state security elements for the activities – the use of armed escort as much as possible and maintaining strong security training and awareness for the personnel; careful selection of all election related sites and the maintenance of security for polling staff, electoral materials and equipment and situational awareness through a well-developed public information strategy to support election operation and ensure timely distribution of security information/advisories; identify hotspots (fragile security locations) in coordination with the Security Agencies and the most likely threats in each constituency and provide a clear order of priority for concerted efforts to be made to mitigate and manage these concerns and to allow resources to be targeted for maximum effect. In cases where the Police fail to deploy the right number of personnel to hotspots and poorly equipping them, the Elections Security Officer must insist on having the full compliment. In the past, where the police deployed fewer men than expected while at the same time police threaten from high roof to deal with miscreants, posed little or no deterrence to ‘macho’ men and armed or militia groups loyal to political parties to visit mayhem on voters.
CADA is optimistic that the above-mentioned recommendations, if EC accepts them in good faith and implement them, the overall security environment that seem threat to election operations in Ghana will be minimised in 2016.
Electoral Affairs, CADA