Multi-party democracy is a fundamental part of nation building in that it offers individuals from diverse backgrounds, different political philosophies and orientations, the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process in a nation or society. Political pluralism is an inextricable feature of democracy and the government’s acceptance of the opposition is a prerequisite for the democratic operation of institutions (European Conference of Presidents of Parliament, 2014).
According to the French philosopher, sociologist, journalist and political scientist Raymond Claude Ferdinand Aron, democracies are systems “in which the peaceful rivalry for the exercise of power exists constitutionally.”
This means that democracy endorses and allows divergent views, opinions and diversities. Because we differ in our thought processes, it will be very difficult, if not impossible for everybody to have the same mindset, beliefs or align ourselves towards a particular group or association.
As individuals, we are bound to differ in our appreciation of issues in order to meaningfully contribute to the advancement of our society. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If we all think alike, no one is thinking.” It is the diversities of thought, and multiplicity of ideas and viewpoints that fuel progress and development.
But, sadly, some people see diversity of views as an obstacle to development. Luckily, the ruling New Patriotic Party, an offshoot of the United Goal Coast Convention, a Centre-right political party, has, as one of her major pillars, the acceptance and promotion of diverse views.
Responsibility lies at the pinnacle of human interaction, and serves as social glue to meaningful co-existence. In democratic governance, responsible opposition is a major feature that has to be encouraged. Political parties are formed essentially to win the mandate of the people through the ballot box in order to implement their programs indicated on their respective manifestoes to the benefit of the people.
The privilege to form the government after winning the ballot, places a huge responsibility on the political party to honor the social contract she has with the citizenry. If the implementation of the intentions of the government is not checked, it can lead to arbitrariness, wanton dissipation of the nation’s kitty, lack of respect for State institutions and other vices that can disorient the progress of the nation.
As a result of the potential corruptibility of power, governments have to be checked, especially by opposition parties, albeit responsibly. Responsible governance, as well as responsible opposition is a major catalyst in consensus building and development. These two elements should be mutually inclusive in making democratic governance meaningful to the people.
In fact, democracy loses its efficacy in the absence of a responsible opposition because of the likelihood of arbitrary rule by the government.
According to Harry Truman, “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear." Thus repressive regimes are vehicles of instability and deny the citizenry the opportunity to be part of the decision-making process—which is needed for national development.
How do we identify a responsible opposition? A responsible opposition may be defined as all credible political parties that qualify as the alternative government and provide alternative ideas, programs and solutions to issues of national concern or relevance in order to move a nation on the path of progress and development.
This means that they are political parties that are not parochial, petty, dishonest, but engage in discourses or activities that complement those of the ruling political party. They are those who are not unduly influenced or obsessed with the winning of political mandate, but rather help in shaping the socio-economic outlook of their country. Although, they seek to form the next government, they do so in ways that exhume confidence in the citizenry and demonstrate their capacity to be a credible alternative.
Characteristic among them is their engagement in facts, and not fiction when engaging in debates and discourses of national relevance.
Their reliance on facts on issues makes them credible and trustworthy in the eyes of the discerning. Responsible opposition parties do not take the citizenry for granted, neither do they belittle their intelligence; rather they exercise discretion and elevate the weight of their discussion and debates on issues.
They are not propagandist; neither do they give room to deceit and lies when dealing with the people. Responsible opposition parties are fair in their analysis and allow judgment and discretion to lead them in their public engagements.
In the past few weeks, some sections of the opposition have acted in ways that question their preparedness to be responsible in their role as watch-dogs of the government.
For example, the spontaneity and alacrity at which they react to issues, and needlessly accuse the President of wrongdoing or complicity on any issue, without recourse to facts is very worrying, and suggests that they are not acting responsibly and in good faith.
Is it not worrying, that Mr. Haruna Iddrisu, the Minority Leader of Parliament, will accuse the President of complicity in the petition submitted to the latter by concerned staff of the electoral commission? Why will the Minority Leader do that?
Sincerely, his comment about the complicity of the President was devoid of facts; it was capricious, whimsical and malicious intended to dent the image and integrity of the President. This is an example of what I call irresponsible opposition, and must be stopped. The Minority Leader must understand that he is an embodiment of a revered institution and a position that demand responsibility, and thus must be circumspect in his utterances.
In deepening democratic culture, what matters is superiority of ideas, views, solutions, and not that of emotions, lies, deceit, and propaganda. It is hoped that the opposition in the country, especially the National Democratic Congress, act in a responsible manner in ensuring that the government does not overstep her mandate, rule capriciously, and despise the constitution.
They need to also ensure that the government is accountable to the people, respects the freedoms of the people, educates the people on their alternative plans, programs and policies, contributes in ensuring the credibility of our electoral process, among others.
This is how the opposition can help in making our governance system effective and the lives of the citizens better. Opposition of convenience should give way to one of conviction; that is the surest way of being a responsible opposition. God bless Ghana.
Source: Dr. Kingsley Nyarko/ Executive Director, Danquah Institute (DI)/ Senior Lecturer, University of Ghana
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