Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Independence Day Anniversary Reflections - Liberal democracy under gavel?

Paul Kwadjo Danson

The right to choose by voting is a cardinal cornerstone of liberal democracy. The PNDC system of picking and choosing its operators is ridiculous and to say the least, belittles the dignity of the Ghanaian populace...
At this moment in time, we as Ghanaians stand on the deck of the ship of our nation amidst the turbulent waters through which we have come this far. There are some of us who may not have been born or who may have been toddlers when Ghana attained her independence from colonial rule in 1957. There are others who were old enough to now feel the nostalgia of those days. The road from independence, synonymous with a newborn infant struggling to reach adulthood, has been tortuous, faltering and at present still looks as unsavoury as the future looks unpredictable.

The political pendulum has swung from one administration to another with nerve-racking regularity leaving the nation and her peoples worse than ever before. It is on this aspect that I wish to share some views on this occasion. I do not hope it will prescribe an instant panacea to the country's problems but as a citizen of Ghana, I take seriously my right to express my views at whatever platform that gives me the opportunity to do so.

The subtle imagery expressed by the title of the article does not re-emphasise the consistent poundings of our democratic institutions on military anvils but it is intended to draw attention to what price, if any, we should pay to support and maintain our civilian governments. Let us imagine for a moment that we are all assembled in an auction room where the auctioneer is ready with his hammer and on sale is an item which I choose to label as Liberal Democracy.

To some of us willing to stick up our fingers or nod our head to bid, the price for that item is getting too high for comfort. They might as well abandon it and welcome any alternative that is forcibly thrown at them for after all, if the end should be justified, no-one will question the means taken to achieve it.

To some of us still, liberal democracy is priceless, infact worth any price and every effort must be made to hold onto it. Where do you as an individual stand? Would you take it at any price or would you abandon it and like a drowning man grab hurriedly at any passing straw?

Ghanaians have always hailed and supported coup d'etats only to discover sooner than later on that there is nothing like a good military government. Government by civilian administration through a parliamentary democratic constitution must be given a chance to establish roots and develop as it is the only way to assure the individual of his liberties and freedom.

It does not come on a silver platter though. The price to pay is patience, vigilance, honesty and dedication; The patience to uphold it even in the face of teething economic problems and naked abuses of its provisions, so that reform of the system from within can be carried out.

It is a human institution prone to cracks and abuses and deficiencies but that is no reason to throw it overboard and hope for a miracle to carry the country through the quagmire of dep- rivation and stagnation. Above all, we must accept that it cost a lot more and be prepared to support it finally. The peoples' confidence in the system must be motivated to grow unfettered since to my mind there is no better alternative. To our hypothetical auctioneer therefore, I will say stop the call for bidding, take away your hammer. Liberal democracy is priceless.

May I now expatiate on the concept liberal democracy. It embodies the principles which must be given practical expression in the laws and institutions of the society and ideals which provide the goals to which all the people aspire fervently for the betterment of society. It is founded on the principle of respect for the human being.

Every person is entitled to civil liberties which ensure social order and enhance the dignity of the individual. The right to free speech and expression, the right to movement, the right to decide by ballot, the right to justice, the right to worship whatever is deserving of worship and the right to a decent living. In recent times, there have been open attempts to bash and ridicule the church in Ghana and innocent people practising their faith have become targets of military brutality.

Why can ordinary people not take their spare time to pursue the faith they believe in? Everyone has a right to move wherever he or she chooses. The recent increases in air fares, the one time exit visa requirements and current restrictions on peoples' passports on their return from abroad, are examples of the infringement of individuals' civil liberties. It is rather ironic that before the fateful December 1981, the 4th June Movement could hold rallies up and down the country because they had a right to do that at the time. Indeed without any obstruction or hindrance, John Rawlings staged several rallying platforms and raised his so-called workers banners to propagate his ideas which culminated in his forceful seizure of power.

And yet after having so brutally seized power, he has begun to shamelessly gag the objective press and persecute people who dare to voice their opinion. And that is no different from what happened during the Unigov era of the military regime under I. K. Acheampong. Liberal democracy assures freedom of opinion and speech and it is an invaluable human principle.

The right to choose by voting is a cardinal cornerstone of liberal democracy and if it is to be meaningful there must be a choice of competing individual or groups. The PNDC system of picking and choosing its operators is ridiculous and to say the least belittles the dignity of the Ghanaian populace. There have been sustained attempts by military governments in Ghana to decimate and denigrate politicians and political organisations and by so doing have consistently destroyed the confidence that the majority of the people ought to have in democratic political institutions.

Political parties are a vital part of any democratic system. They offer a common front for the set of ideas and mode of thinking characteristic of the grouping as a whole. After all, disagreements or conflict of opinion are inevitable in our society and political parties constitute forums for channeling these differences in thought and governments. views for the common good and for the protection of the basic liberties of the people.

The deficiencies in the operation of a liberal democratic system arise solely out of the personnel who operate its various arms and how they dedicate themselves to their responsibilities. It rests also on the morality and discipline of the individual men and women who take the helm of the ship and state. The moral standards and cooperation of the entire population is invaluable, of course. Nevertheless, democratic rule has enough checks and balances to make it more appealing and practically beneficial than military rule.

The latter is always centred on a tiny clique of handpicked and self-appointed men and women, leading more often than not, to acquisition of unchallengeable power that only breed dictators and tyrants. Freedom is worth any price, come to think of it and we must fight for it wherever we are because in our particular circumstances, soldiers have used the liberties granted them during periods of civilian rule to subvert and destroy the basic freedoms and liberties to which all our people have an eternal and inalienable right.

Our democratic governments have been apparently easy to wipe under the military carpets because of a few pertinent reasons. First of all, the rulers and the ruled are often too far apart. There are some politicians who see a raise in social status without acknowledging the responsibility that goes with it. The moulding of politicians (i.e. MP's, Ministers, party workers, etc.,) into a separate cast away from the majority of the people, does not inspire confidence in the system.

The work of the party to spread the message of government and bring attention of the peoples' needs, and grievances to notice of the Administration is usually weak or non-existent. Furthermore there is the scepticism and cynicism of the people in the inherent, almost cement-stuck belief that poli- ticians can be anything but corrupt. The last civilian parliament of 1979 to 1981 contained capable well-enlight- ened young men and women who could have stabilised the system and ensure continuity in government.

Certainly past and present military governments have done their worst to putrefy the image of politicians over the years and this is a trend which has bred so much apathy among Ghana- ians and eroded the foundation and credibility of civilian administrations. Our history is sufficient proof that military governments we have had are more corrupt, incompetent and hopeless than any of the civilian

The image of parliamentary politics can be redeemed, no doubt, but only if they are given the chance so that parties can be well established and organised to work to kill the apathy and scepticism, both by example and by mass education. A particular lesson that was visible in the last civilian government was the continual diminishing significance of political parties once the election was over. It is on record of a member of the opposition parties as saying, "if he is in opposition, there's nothing he ought to do", That is a wounding, most barefaced utter crap any leading politician should make and in public.

Mobilisation of the people ought to take place either in government or in opposition, winning the hearts and minds of the people all of the time and parties must exist not only to cry for votes but they ought to adequately be a channel of information day by day, hour by hour. This should help to generate internal pressure groups to seek genuine solutions to their problems through a peaceful channel and to keep the government aware of the needs of the nation.

There is also the self-entrusted belief of individuals and groups within the Armed Forces that they have some divine right to police the state and sit in judgement over a government elected by the people. This is wrong and is probably caused by the greed and divided loyalties of the Forces. But all said and done, no military government can ever get her way if the populations refuse adoration and unsolicited support. This ultimately is the only way to deter military ventures which have done our dear country no good at all.

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