Charting the Political Transition

Ghana Table of Contents

The inauguration of the DAs removed some of the political pressures on the PNDC, but political ferment continued in some sectors of the population. So, too, did the arrest and detention of leading opponents of the PNDC regime. The most publicized of the latter was the arrest and detention in September 1989 of Major Courage Quarshigah, ex-commandant of the Ghana Military Academy and a former close ally of Rawlings. He was accused of leading an attempted coup and of an alleged plot to assassinate Rawlings.

A new phase of the political struggle of the opposition against the PNDC opened in January 1990 when the GBA called on the PNDC to initiate immediately a referendum that would permit the Ghanaian people to determine openly the form of constitutional government they wished for themselves. In his end- of-year message in 1989, Rawlings had promised that the government would strengthen participatory democracy at the grass-roots level. He also proposed that the NCD initiate nationwide consultations with various groups to determine the country's economic and political future. These consultations consisted of a series of seminars, in all ten regional capitals, that ran from July 5 to November 9, 1990, at which the public was invited to express its views.

Meanwhile, the CBC issued a communiqué calling for a national debate on Ghana's political future. On July 24, the Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guards (KNRG) issued a statement calling for a return to multiparty democracy, for the lifting of the ban on political parties, and for the creation of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution to be approved by a national referendum. On August 1, the KNRG, other opposition organizations, and some prominent Ghanaians formed the Movement for Freedom and Justice (MFJ). Adu Boahen was named interim chairman. The MFJ identified the restoration of multiparty democracy and the rule of law in Ghana as its main objectives. Its leaders immediately complained about harassment by the security agencies and about denial of permits to hold public rallies by the police.

Debate about the country's political future dominated 1991. In his broadcast to the nation on New Year's Day, Rawlings outlined steps toward the next stages in the country's political evolution, which included issuance of an NCD report on what form of democracy Ghanaians preferred. The PNDC made it clear that it did not favor multiparty democracy, although its spokesmen indicated that the PNDC had an open mind on the matter. The MFJ immediately called for a constituent assembly, where all parties, including the PNDC, would submit proposals for Ghana's constitutional future. Meanwhile, the PNDC unveiled a statue of J.B. Danquah, Nkrumah's political opponent, after an announcement in 1990 that it would build a statue and a memorial park for Nkrumah. This was a clear attempt to placate and to woo both the Ghanaian "political right" and Nkrumahists of the "left" simultaneously.

In late March, the NCD presented its findings on "true democracy" to the PNDC. After receiving the NCD report, the PNDC announced in May that it accepted the principle of a multiparty system. In its response to the NCD report, the PNDC pledged to set up a committee of constitutional experts that would formulate the draft constitutional proposals to be placed before a national consultative assembly. The committee came into being in May. A 258- member National Consultative Assembly was elected in June with the task of preparing a draft constitution for submission to the PNDC not later than December 31, 1991. The PNDC was then to submit the draft constitution to a national referendum, after which, if approved, it was to enter into force on a date set by the PNDC.

In August Rawlings announced that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held before the end of 1992 and that international observers would be allowed. By the end of 1991, however, the PNDC had not announced when the ban on political parties would be lifted, although many individuals and organizations, such as the Kwame Nkrumah Welfare Society, the Friends of Busia and Danquah, and the Eagle Club, had formed or reemerged and were active as parties in all but name. Despite persistent acrimony surrounding the management and control of the transition process, the PNDC appointed an independent Interim National Electoral Commission in February 1992. The commission was responsible for the register of voters, the conduct of fair elections, and the review of boundaries of administrative and electoral areas.

In a nationwide radio and television broadcast on March 5 marking the thirty-fifth anniversary of Ghana's independence, Rawlings officially announced the following timetable for the return to constitutional government: presentation of the draft constitution to the PNDC by the end of March 1992; a referendum on the draft constitution on April 28, 1992; lifting of the ban on political parties on May 18, 1992; presidential elections on November 3, 1992; parliamentary elections on December 8, 1992; and the inauguration of the Fourth Republic on January 7, 1993.

The PNDC saw the constitutional referendum as an essential exercise that would educate ordinary Ghanaians about the draft constitution and that would create a national consensus. The PNDC opposition urged its supporters and all Ghanaians to support the draft constitution by voting for it. In the April 1992 national referendum, the draft constitution was overwhelmingly approved by about 92 percent of voters. Although the turnout was lower than expected (43.7 percent of registered voters), it was higher than that of the 1978 referendum (40.3 percent) and that of the 1979 parliamentary elections (35.2 percent). The new constitution provided that a referendum should have a turnout of at least 35 percent, with at least 70 percent in favor, in order to be valid.

After lifting of the ban on party politics in May, several rival splinter groups or offshoots of earlier organizations, notably the so-called Nkrumahists and Danquah-Busiaists, as well as new groups, lost no time in declaring their intention to register as political parties and to campaign for public support. In June the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems, which had sent a team to Ghana to observe the April referendum, issued a report recommending re-registration of voters as quickly as possible if Ghana were to have truly competitive presidential and parliamentary elections. The foundation claimed that the total number of registered voters--8.4 million--was improbable. Given an estimated national population of about 16 million--of whom about half were under age fifteen--the Foundation concluded that with a voting age of eighteen, the total registrable population ought not to be above 7.75 million.

This discovery fueled a persistent opposition demand to reopen the voters' register, but constraints of time, technology, and money made such an effort impossible. Instead, the Interim National Electoral Commission embarked on a "voters' register cleansing." Only about 180,000 names were removed from the referendum register, however, leaving the total registered voters at 8.23 million, a statistical impossibility, the opposition insisted. Estimates put the actual number of registered voters at about 6.2 million, making the 3.69 million turn-out at the referendum an adjusted 59.5 percent.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress