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The refusal of the Government to heed to the persistent calls by the Centre of Local Governance Advocacy (CLGA) to declare the local level election day as a Public Holiday has partly been blamed for voter apathy that characterised the September 1 polls.

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The CLGA had advocated that Tuesday, September 1, the day for the District Assembly and Unit Committee elections, be declared a public holiday by the Government.

This year’s district level election recorded the lowest voter turnout of 22 percent since the introduction of the exercise in 1988.

In 1998, 41.6 per cent of the population turned out to vote. It declined in 2002 to 33.1 per cent voter turnout. It, however, increased slightly to 39.28 per cent in 2006 and reduced again to 37.25 per cent in 2010.
The constant decline, experts say, affects the country’s drive to consolidate the decentralisation process, especially, when representations of Assembly Members and Unit Committee Members were determined by a small percentage of voters.

The Local Governance think-tank, argues among other things, that such a holiday would promote voter participation in all levels, thereby raising awareness and whipping up interest in local elections. Again, it would demonstrate national commitment to deepening local democracy.

?Declaring September 1st as public holiday for Ghana’s upcoming local level elections is one obvious way of showing national commitment to deepening decentralisation, local democracy and popular participation in governance,? said a statement issued by the Executive Director of CLGA, Dr Vladimir Antwi Danso, few months before the election.
The Centre observed with much concern the dwindling nature of citizens’ participation in all six local level elections in Ghana since 1988/89 compared to other national level elections such as the Presidential and Parliamentary elections.

To this end, the CLGA was of the view that ?in order to give true meaning to Article 35(6)(d) of the 1992 constitution which states that ‘the State shall take appropriate measures to make democracy a reality by decentralising the administrative and financial machinery of government to the regions and districts by affording all possible opportunities to the people to participate in decision-making at every level of national life and in government’ efforts must be made to promote voter participation in all local level elections . By this, popular participation in decision making and participatory democracy will be enhanced.?

It was the position of the CLGA that once the day was declared a holiday, voter turnout would increase, thereby deepening local democracy along the same lines as national democracy which the nation prides itself so much with.
Data from the Electoral Commission (EC), since the four-yearly ritual of electing assembly members to lead Ghana’s development and good governance systems at the grassroots level started in 1988, shows that voter turnout in Accra has consistently trailed the rest of the other regions.

From a regional high of 44.3 per cent of registered voters in 1988, the electorate in Accra appears to have written off the system, returning an average 23 per cent. In 2002, turnout was a lowly 16.5 per cent.

The Upper East Region is Ghana’s best performer as far as voter turnout at the basic and ?most important elections? are concerned. The region has vacillated between 62 per cent and 34.6 per cent of registered voters.

In a related development, other watchers of decentralisation have also advocated the election of District Chief Executives (DCEs) as a means of stirring up the interest of the citizenry in decentralisation.

They argue that the current political structure, consisting of an apex of an elected President and Parliamentarians sitting on a base of District Assembly whose head is appointed, is inherently contradictory.
They submit that if the position of the DCE is made elective, the political parties will get involved and the District Assembly elections will acquire the character of general elections held in the country.

They insist that until this innovation is introduced, the apathy that has characterised the District Assembly will continue to be its unenviable hallmark

The 1992 Constitution provides for Local Government in article 240(1) that ?Ghana shall have a system of local government and administration which shall, as far as practicable, be decentralized.?

The Constitution goes further to provide for the features of the Local Government structure. In article 240(2)(c) there shall be established for each local government unit a sound financial base with adequate and reliable sources of revenue;

(d) as far as practicable, persons in the service of local government shall be subject to the effective control of local authorities; and

(e) to ensure the accountability of local government authorities, people in particular local government areas shall, as far as practicable, be afforded the opportunity to participate effectively in their governance.

Source : Public Agenda

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