District Assembly Elections

Ghana Table of Contents

The main political preoccupations of the PNDC and the Ghanaian public in 1988 were the implementation of the government's decentralization program and the elections to the new District Assemblies (DAs). In a speech commemorating his fifth year in power in January 1987, Rawlings had announced proposals for the decentralization of government. These had included promises of elections for DAs and a national debate on the ERP. The debate on the ERP never materialized, but debates on the elections and the DAs did.

Among the radical changes introduced in local government elections were provisions that no cash deposits were required of candidates for district level elections and that illiteracy in English was no longer a disqualification. To accommodate nonEnglish speakers in the DAs and to make assembly debates accessible to the majority of constituents, local languages could be used in the DAs. The elections were to be nonpartisan: the ban on political parties was not lifted. Implementation of the decentralization program and preparation for the district elections did not completely silence the opposition nor did it remove the sources of public discontent and disaffection toward the government within some sections of the Ghanaian population.

In 1988 there was no indication of what political structures and institutions would be established above the DAs at regional and national levels. Nor was it clear whether creation of the DAs was intended to broaden the civilian support base of the PNDC, thereby legitimizing and perpetuating PNDC rule indefinitely. Some felt that the word "provisional" in the regime's name sounded a bit hollow after five years in power. Indeed, many read the proposed district elections as a strategy similar to the union government proposal in 1978 that had not been implemented because of its widespread unpopularity.

In February 1988, Adu Boahen, a retired history professor and later a presidential candidate and Rawlings's main challenger, delivered three lectures in which he severely criticized military rule in Ghana and the PNDC regime in particular as the cause of political instability. He affirmed that the AFRC led by Rawlings in 1979 was completely unnecessary. He attacked the alleged domination of the PNDC regime and of major national institutions by the Ewe and called for an interim coalition government within a year and for a return to multiparty democracy by 1992. The state-owned national media attacked Boahen's criticism of the PNDC but did not report the original text of the lectures.

For the DA elections, the country was divided into three zones by region. Zone one consisted of Western Region, Central Region, Ashanti Region, and Eastern Region; zone two, of Upper East Region, Upper West Region, and Northern Region; zone three, of Greater Accra Region, Volta Region, and Brong-Ahafo Region. The first round of the nonpartisan elections took place on December 6, 1988, in zone one of the country, with polling in zones two and three following on January 31 and February 28, 1989, respectively. District election committees disqualified several candidates in a number of districts for various offenses, including nonpayment of taxes, refusal to participate in communal labor, and shirking other civic responsibilities. With an estimated average turnout rate of about 60 percent of registered voters (some rural districts had a 90 percent turnout), the highest for any election in two decades, most Ghanaians saw this first step toward the establishment of national democratic institutions as quite successful. The opposition, although critical of the composition of the DAs, accepted the assemblies in principle.

The DAs gave new momentum to the exercise of grass-roots democracy as well as to local determination of and implementation of development projects. The principle of nonpartisan, decentralized political structure proved popular. By-laws passed by the DAs had to be deposited with the PNDC secretariat immediately after their passage. If within twenty-one days the PNDC raised no objection to them, they automatically became law.

Some elected representatives, a majority of whom were farmers and school teachers, resented the fact that PNDC appointees, mostly chiefs and professionals who constituted one-third of the memberships of the DAs, often sought to dominate the proceedings. Also, most of the districts and their people were poor, and the DAs' quick resort to taxes and numerous levies to raise much needed revenue proved burdensome and unpopular. In some parts of country, for example Cape Coast and Accra, there were protests and tax revolts. In August 1989, regional coordinating councils were formed in all ten regions to streamline the work of the DAs and to coordinate district policies and projects. The PNDC made it clear that DAs had no power to collect or to levy income taxes.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress