A US-based non governmental delegation from the Carter Center, will meet Ghana's Independent Electoral Commission Wednesday over the recent controversial voter registration exercise for this year's general elections. All political parties, including the ruling New Patriotic Party, have expressed serious concern over the bloated register, which they claim could adversely undermine the credibility of the December vote. But the ruling party has come under intense criticism from the main opposition National Democratic Congress for encouraging underage children and non-Ghanaians to register and participate in the general election. The ruling party dismisses the accusation as unfounded.
John Stremlau is the vice president of the Carter Center for peace programs. From Ghana's capital, Accra, he tells reporter Peter Clottey that they will ascertain the electoral commission steps to address challenges to the voters register.
"The electoral commission is the focus of a lot of the internal discussion regarding the conduct of the December 7 elections. As you probably know, Ghana electoral commission is admired all over the world, and Afari Gyan, the head of it, is a consultant with governments everywhere, it seems, for his expertise. The recent reports of the delayed registration process for new voters say that there are an unusually surprising number of new voters on the rolls. Where they predicted 500- thousand, there are one point eight million," Stremlau pointed out.
He said all the political parties have expressed grave concern about the controversial bloated register ahead of the election.
"And this has raised questions whether there was enough discipline in registering newly 18 ?year-olds or older or whether the rolls have been bloated. That has been the subject of quite some concern by the parties, by the non-governmental organizations we've been talking to," he said.
Stremlau said there was need for all the participating political parties to be vigilant during the election to prevent any possible fraud.
"I think there is a lot of goodwill in Ghana. The Ghanaian people are committed to democracy, but this is likely to be a very close election. So, the pressure would be on the parties concerned, and I think what the public is looking for are signs of reassurance. Both the parties on one hand will discourage minors or people underage who may have voted to please not go ahead and try to exercise that franchise, to work with each other and to reassure the public that they would abide by a transparent election," Stremlau noted.
He said the Carter center delegation would be meeting the electoral commission today to ascertain the pragmatic steps it is putting in place to address the challenges on the voters register.
"We are meeting with the electoral commission today. What I can tell you is that a wide array of civil society organizations with who we've met and with the four parties that we met with today including even the ruling New Patriotic Party, there are expressions of concern that perhaps the reforms of the electoral commissions work are needed between now just to raise the confidence of everyone," he said.
Stremlau said the Carter Center has employed electoral observers to monitor the electoral process.
"We have as a Carter Center taken this process very seriously here and deployed long term observers for the last couple of months out in all the major areas of the country to take that temperature. And they report back that while it expects in any country there is a range of views and expectations and party loyalties. All Ghanaians are fired up and ready to go to borrow the Obama phrase in the United States for this 2008 election here," Stremlau pointed out.
The Carter Center is currently in Ghana to assess the ongoing challenges and irregularities with voter registration processes and other concerns ahead of the December 7 presidential and parliamentary elections. The delegation is also expected to meet some of the political actors, representatives of civil society, and the media.
The delegation's visit forms part of the Center's ongoing support for Ghana's efforts to conduct peaceful, credible, and transparent democratic elections that would meet international standards. Nine Carter Center long-term observers have so far been deployed throughout Ghana to monitor campaigning and other political activities since early-September.