The Supreme Verdict!…The Afari-Gyan Riddle Still Unresolved

In the midst of the consummate anxiety and tension that engulfed the country in the run-up to and on the day of the SUPREME VERDICT, the most poignant riddle in the entire election petition conundrum – the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan – was not the least addressed by the ruling of the Nine-Member Supreme Court panel. For NDC and NPP faithful their entire sense of judgement on the election petition case was obviously clouded by their hyper-parochial, passionate support for their respective political parties and were thus concerned more about the surface value of arguments adduced by counsel for petitioners and respondents. However, the deeper expressed value of the petition was not just about the joy of who won or sorrow of who lost, but the role of the sole referee judge, Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, whose somewhat lack of hold on the process actually brought Ghana thus far. It became a huge surprise that Dr. Kwadwo Afar-Gyan’s Electoral Commission was not mentioned at all in the missive of a judgement read out by the head of the nine-member court, Justice William Atubuga. That certainly constituted a missing jigsaw in the rigmarole of the almost eight months Supreme Court hearing which ironically, took a little over five minutes to dismiss without any further insight into the role played by the man or the institution at the centre of the electioneering dispute in that snappy verdict. The slim 5-4 majority verdict indeed set tongues wagging, because Kwadwo Afari-Gyan has been completely left off the hook. It does not matter if it turns out later that the issue of electoral reforms, which was at the heart of the petition, will be captured by the judges in their full verdict report. Report indicates that the full verdict report will be made available to the parties this week. Indeed, it was such an important issue as warranting comment or two by the judges in their brief dismissal of the verdict. After all, not all Ghanaians will have the chance of reading the full report, except the privileged few within the media, the legal fraternity, and by extension law students who by their law study will be compelled to do so. For now all that the ordinary Ghanaian knows is that the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to dismiss the petition. To such Ghanaians, who, unfortunately, are in the majority, by the Supreme Court ruling, it does not matter much if elections in Ghana are marred by mass irregularities, such as over-voting, voting without verification, duplication of serial numbers and non-endorsement of votes cast by presiding officers. As far as such flawed process has been legitimized by Kwadwo Afari-Gyan and his team, it stands. It does seem many Ghanaians are likely to lose interest in future elections now that it is clear that none has the right to question the work-no matter how horrible, of Afari-Gyan. By the electoral laws, 50 percent plus just a single vote is enough guarantee for a candidate to annex the highest office of the land-the presidency. Hence as the provision provides, every vote in the Ghana franchise is just too crucial to be toyed with or fabricated. By any stretch of estimation, therefore, if the level of irregularities were not enough to have affected the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, as the five majority judges seem to suggest, they should have stated that at least in parts. At least the four dissenting judges offered a voice that suggests that Kwadwo Afari-Gyan cannot escape blame. Thus it was not entirely out of place for the ruling no matter how brief to capture what these voices of dissension said in relation to the electoral process. In an era of majority rule, we need to keep in perspective the fact that that concept is not foolproof, and so fundamentally it is just a process of finding a way out of stalemates. The majority had spoken from the Supreme Court, but certainly that decision although binding, cannot be accepted as the best under the circumstance because for now and on the face value of what we got from the Supreme Verdict, the crux issue at the core of the petition, electoral reforms, is still in limbo. By the live coverage of the proceedings at the Supreme Court, majority of Ghanaians became privy to the itchy and wobbling posture of Kwadow Afari-Gyan when he failed to answer well some basic issues on the conduct of the 2012 presidential election thrown at him by lead counsel for the petitioners. That was worrying in the light of the fact that he was being questioned on the very process he had superintended for well over 16 years. In fact, he was deputy chairman to the late, Josiah Ofori Boateng then chairman of the Electoral Commission during the 1992 elections. Subsequently, days to the 1996 General Elections he assumed leadership at the commission and has remained so till date. There may never be a perfect situation; but such inherent weakness does not render useless the desire to strive to keep perfecting the system, especially in a passionate terrain such as elections whose outcomes has elsewhere plunged countries into chaos and war. Perhaps, the entire country could have been spared the consummate pain of going through intense tension and anxiety in the days leading to the Supreme Verdict on Thursday, August 29, 2013. It reached a crescendo on the judgement day itself. The scenario in the capital, Accra, was fabulous as it was virtually reduced to a ghost town, a scenario replicated in other cities and towns throughout the country on that fateful Thursday. The protagonists in the election petition were not left out of the tensed atmosphere. President John Dramani Mahama, the lead respondent as captured on the screens by the television lenses was a pale shadow of himself. He together with his Vice, Paa Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur showed their uneasiness publicly minutes before the reading of the verdict. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the star petitioner tried albeit unsuccessful to be brave. His posture and that of his team mates demonstrated intense anxiety that did not need any critical eye to notice. That was the intensity of the anguish that engulfed the entire nation when the Atuguba-led nine member panel of Supreme Court read out it final verdict on the eight-month old election petition case. But the much anticipated verdict proved an anti-climax. In the estimation of many political watchers, legal brains and a section of the general public if the five-minute reading of the verdict by Justice William Atubuga was deliberately done to douse the tension, then the purpose did not come anywhere near the objective. In a 5-4 majority decision, the Supreme Court dismissed the petitioners’ claim that with massive irregularities – over-voting, voting without verification and voting without signatures or endorsements by presiding officers – in some polling stations the votes affected by the detected flaws should be annulled, and Nana Akufo-Addo declared winner of the December 7th and 8th presidential election. The five judges, Justice William Anam Atuguba, Mrs. Justice Sophia Adinyira, Mr. Justice Jones Victor M. Dotse, Mr. Justice N. S. Gbadegbe and Mrs. Justice Vida Akoto-Bamfo, in a majority decision dismissed the petitioners claim for the annulment of 3,931,339 votes affected by the flaws. The dissenting judges, Justice Julius Ansah, Ms. Justice Rose Constance Owusu and Justice Anim Yeboah and Justice Baffoe Bonnie were of the view that those irregularities detected by the petitioners indeed affected the outcome of the December 7th and 8th presidential election and therefore should be annulled to pave way for a re-run of the 2012 elections. Clearly with the mounting tension, many who were in favour of the ruling argued reading a brief judgement, as happened in court on Thursday, was necessary to relieve Ghanaians of the knife-edge situation we have been sitting on for eight months. But in sharp rebuttal, many others point out that the surface-scratching solution offered by the court fails to deal with the real issues raised by the petition and to which Ghanaians were seeking answers. They point out that it has only left lingering doubt in the minds of Ghanaians on what the court meant by the verdict, and how we have to deal with electoral irregularities in future.