Pressure group OccupyGhana has called for a law to criminalise vote-buying in internal party elections and primaries.
In a letter to the Attorney-General, Ms Gloria Akuffo, the group urged the minister to consider preparing a bill to Parliament to “criminalise such acts as vote-buying in the manner that was provided under Part IV, Chapter 5 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), Part II of the Referendum Act, 1977 (SMCD 143) and Part V of the Representation of the People Act, 1992 (PNDCL 284)”.
Such a move, the pressure group believes, will help seal a loophole in the law which is silent on the criminality of vote buying in internal party elections.
In the letter, which provided a legal basis for the request to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the group said: “We have taken note of the several reports of vote-buying during internal political party elections and primaries since the inception of the Fourth Republican Constitution.
“The phenomenon seems to be getting worse with every election cycle when politicians raise funds simply to distribute to party delegates, either in cash or in kind, in exchange for their votes. It has got to a stage where it is the highest bidder who wins internal elections and primaries, which have become the ‘cocoa season’ for those fortunate to be selected as delegates,” it stated.
The group added: “We are concerned that this is prevalent probably because there appears to be no law that specifically criminalises vote-buying during internal elections and primaries. The provisions against vote-buying and related offences in Act 29, SMCD 143 and PNDCL 284 are specifically targeted at public elections and referenda, and by definition do not extend to internal elections and primaries”.
The group explained that “for instance, section 3(5) of Act 29 says ‘the expression “public election” shall be construed by reference to article 49 of the Constitution, and includes an election the qualification for voting at which, or the mode of voting at which, is determined or regulated by an enactment.’ Section 50 of PNDCL 284 simply says ‘“election” means any public election.’ Even section 11 of the more recent Vigilantism and Related Offences Act, 2019 (Act 999) defines ‘public election’ by reference to ‘general, presidential and district level elections and referenda conducted or supervised by the Electoral Commission.”
According to the group, although it is arguable that the definition in Act 999 may apply to internal elections and primaries because they are supervised by the Electoral Commission, it does not go far enough. This is because under article 19 (11) of the Constitution, an act is not a crime until it is specifically provided as such in written law with a specifically prescribed punishment”.
It said “the current lacuna in the law cannot continue, adding that ” For starters, article 55(5) of the Constitution demands that political parties must be run along democratic lines. Specifically, it says ‘the internal organisation 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.’
OccupyGhana added that although simply criminalising vote-buying may not eradicate the practice, “we think that the specific criminalisation will send a clear message to current and future perpetrators that, at the very least, Ghana frowns on those acts and is willing to punish those who engage in them. It will also serve as a clear message that if they are caught, the law will deal with them”.
“We do not think that Ghana requires any massive legislative amendments to achieve this. We could achieve this by extending the current definition of ‘public elections’ to cover internal elections and primaries so that the criminalising provisions under Part IV, Chapter 5 of Act 29 and Part V of PNDCL 284 will apply. Alternatively, we may consider a stand-alone legislation that regulates such internal elections and primaries and criminalises vote-buying among others,” it said.