THE RIGHT TO POLITICAL CHOICE AND THE NARROW-MINDEDNESS OF SOME POLITICAL SYCOPHANTS IN THE REPUBLIC OF NINDUGLA By Frederick Agaaya Adongo

The Republic of Nindugla is a unitary republic in Sub-Saharan Africa. The people of Nindugla in 1992 adopted for themselves a constitution which is described as the fundamental law of the land. In consequence thereof, any enactment or act which is found to be inconsistent with the constitution or any provision thereof is void and of no effect to the extent of its inconsistency, according to article 1(2) of the constitution.

After gaining her political independence from the British Crown in March 1957, Nindugla has had numerous forms of government, ranging from constitutionally and democratically elected governments to military cum police constituted governments. Having experimented with different forms of government, the people of Nindugla in promulgating their 1992 Constitution opted for a multi-party system of democracy. Nevertheless, since 1992, when the first general election under the Fourth Republic was organized to the present date, only two political parties have dominated the political space. So even though on paper a multi-party system is in existence, their pattern of voting has essentially reduced their democracy to a de facto two-party system.

In December 2020, the people of Nindugla went to the polls to elect their President and members of Parliament. Several matters arose from the just ended polls which expose the narrow-mindedness of some individuals who have allowed their political leanings to becloud their thoughts. Some fine brains have sold their consciences to political parties. They have sacrificed common sense on the altar of political expediency. What a sad reflection on the political landscape of Nindugla.

I happened to take a trip to the Republic of Nindugla during the period of their elections. Like a solitary walker at night, I creeped through the streets of Nindugla, picking up lines from conversations between people just before, during and after their elections. Permit me to share with you a few of the conversations that took place between some individuals during the period under consideration.

 

Conversation A:

John:Yoo Peter, which party do you belong to, if any?”

Peter: “I am a card bearing member of the National Alliance Party (NAP).”

John:  “Argh! An intellectual like you and you have brought yourself so low by joining that party of non-intellectuals? You deserve better than that, Peter. Join my party. I belong to the Nindugla Freedom Fighters Party (NFFP). My party is the party that has the intellectuals. No intellectual will join a party such as NAP.”

 

Conversation B:

John: “Eii Samuel, in this year’s presidential election the NAP pulled a lot of votes oo. Herhh! I was left in disbelief when I heard the results of the election being announced. No God-fearing individual will vote for that party. Honestly, people don’t fear God oo.”

Samuel: “Oops! But everyone has the right to choose whoever he wants so those who voted for the NAP candidate see in him a better leader than the others and that is exactly why they voted for him. So we must respect their choice.”

John: “Naa those people don’t think at all. I can’t believe that people still support NAP. I’m honestly disappointed that in this age people still don’t think properly.”

 

Conversation C:

John: “Mawuli, I heard you are a supporter of the Nindugla Democratic Party (NDP). Is that true?”

Mawuli: “Yes, it is. I am a proud member of NDP”

John: “Argh! You are wasting your time, my dear. How on earth can someone be supporting a party that has no chance at all at winning any election in this country. Don’t waste your vote. Vote wisely. Vote for a better candidate.”

 

Any little reflection on these conversations that I chanced upon puts me to shudder! It gives me incomprehensible nightmares and goosebumps and makes me wonder what at all the motivations were for such sentimental bosh. To satisfy my curiosity, I requested for and was given the constitution of Nindugla, the basic law of the land or if you may, the Grundnorm, if one were to speak of it in Kelsenite terms. I read the constitution from cover to cover a couple of times. I couldn’t find any justifiable basis for the sentiments expressed by some people as shown in the conversations above. In consequence thereof, I seek herein to examine the fundamentality of the right to a political choice under the 1992 Constitution of Nindugla.

To begin with, article 42 of the constitution of Nindugla guarantees the rights of every citizen of eighteen years or above and of sound mind to vote and to be registered as a voter. It is worthy of mention that article 42 is not under Chapter Five of the constitution on fundamental human rights. Nevertheless, the fundamentality of the right to vote is by no means diminished by the fact that it is guaranteed under a different chapter of the constitution, not dealing specifically with human rights.

So, in the case of Apaloo v Electoral Commission [2001-2002] SCGLR 1, Bamford-Addo JSC commented on the right to vote thus: “In the contemporary world, any limitation on suffrage is rejected. It is universally accepted that there is no reason at all for exclusion of the right to vote or any limitation to it, considering that all men are created equal and have one vote each. For this reason, it is incumbent on the Electoral Commission to provide by all legitimate means for the free and unlimited exercise of the citizens’ franchise in conformity with both the letter and spirit of the Constitution. This is the manner in which electoral laws ought to be interpreted.”

Again, in Abu Ramadan & Nimako (No. 1) v. Electoral Commission & Attorney General [2013-2014] 2 SCGLR 1654 Georgina Wood CJ observed that, “[a]s a crucial step to actualising the right to vote, … citizens of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind have the constitutional right under article 42 of the 1992 Constitution “to be registered as a voter…” for purposes which are all too evident – exercising the franchise in all public elections and referenda. If the right to vote is important in participatory democracy, the right to register is even more fundamental and critical. It is the golden key that opens the door to exercising the right to vote.”

In consequence thereof, a legion of decisions of the Supreme Court, including Ahumah-Ocansey v. Electoral Commission; Centre for Human Rights and Civil Liberties (CHURCIL) v. Attorney General (Consolidated) [2010] SCGLR 575 and Tehn-Addy v. Electoral Commission [1996-97] SCGLR 575, have demonstrably underscored the high threshold of importance that the court attaches to the rights to vote and to be registered as a voter. Like a fragile egg, the courts have sought to protect the right to vote so jealously, such that in the consolidated suits of Ahuma-Ocansey and CHURCIL (supra), the court declared as unconstitutional the attempt by the Electoral Commission then constituted to deny prisoners the right to vote. This tells us how fundamental this particular right is in the eyes of the judiciary. Indeed, there can be no greater privilege than this – being conferred with the power to choose who leads you, as this choice can largely influence how well one would enjoy his other rights.

It is imperative and urgent to be mindful that deeply etched in the right to vote itself is the right to vote for anyone of one’s choice. Without being accorded the necessary structures to vote according to one’s choice, the right to vote will be nothing save a meaningless expression, sugar-coated to make it appealing. And so Gbadegbe JSC in the case of In Re Presidential Election Petition, Akufo-Addo and Others v. John Mahama and Others [2013] SCGLR (Special Edition) 73 described the right to vote in the following apposite terms: “In my view, a fair reading of the constitutional provisions on the electoral processes reveals that it is premised on the right to vote according to one’s choice… The right to vote according to one’s choice, is, in my opinion, the fundamental pillar of our constitutional democracy and should not be trivialised.”

Having taken cognizance of the sound constitutional jurisprudence espoused by the courts on the right to vote, I was utterly dismayed and found some of the comments in the aforementioned conversations rather unfortunate. I just could not believe that despite the comprehensive legal bases for the free exercise of the right to vote or to belong to a political party, people could make such utterances aimed at disrespecting and perhaps rendering nugatory people’s choices.

In my curious enquiry to understand the constitutional framework relating to the right to partake in the political process, I noticed that article 55(1) of the Constitution of Nindugla guarantees the right of every person of voting age to form a political party. The constitution then proceeds in clause 2 of the same article to guarantee the right of every citizen of voting age to join a political party of one’s choice.

In order to push away any attempt at forcing people to subscribe to certain political ideologies, the constitution provides in article 55(16) in far from Delphic terms that “[a] member of an organisation or interest group shall not be required to join a particular political party by virtue of his membership of the organisation or group.” More strikingly, article 56 of the constitution provides that “Parliament shall have no power to enact a law to establish or authorise the establishment of a body or movement with the right or power to impose on the people … a common programme or a set of objectives of a religious or political nature.”

This indicates the high level of importance that the framers of the constitution designated to this right to choose whichever political ideology that one wants to subscribe to. Choosing a political party or voting for a particular candidate, therefore, is subject to the right of private judgment based on specific value judgements that one has placed on political parties and candidates presented for an election.

Now, we have to understand that free will is, by far, the greatest gift of nature. Even in Christendom, one’s being saved or otherwise is dependent on the choice he makes in the exercise of his free will. This means that even God the creator respects the free will of mortal beings – mere creatures. In this respect, St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the most outstanding theologians that history has ever known, popularly remarked that “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.” St. Augustine means, in essence, that God created us without our cooperation but does not will to save us without our consent. This is in absolute affirmation of the free will that every human in endowed with by nature.

St. Thomas Aquinas in his magnum opus, the Summa Theologica, speaks of this free will as “the principle of the act by which man judges freely.” According to him, “man acts from judgment, because by his apprehensive power he judges that something should be avoided or sought… forasmuch as man is rational is it necessary that man have a free-will.” He therefore postulates that “[t]he proper act of free-will is choice: for we say that we have a free-will because we can take one thing while refusing another; and this is to choose.”

The human faculty, in its stark enormity and ability to discern, gives everyone the opportunity to choose what he wants and what is best for him. The framers of the constitution recognized and respected the free will of every person. So they made provisions aimed at safeguarding the natural and inalienable right of every person to make a choice devoid of force or intimidation.

That said, let us now revert our attention to Conversation A. I find it absolutely ridiculous and amazing at the same time that people will disregard others’ rights to make choices and spew insults at them simply because of the choices they make. It is even more ridiculous if one regards himself as intellectually superior to another simply because of the political choice he has made. One amazing thing is even that, sometimes, those who make such comments are no better than those they regard as non-intellectuals.

For purposes of illustration, let us consider this: John and Peter were in school together from basic school, through second cycle to the tertiary levels. They sat in class together all these years. John was not any better than Peter, academically and otherwise. In fact, Peter did far better. Then they both come out of school and Peter chooses to join National Alliance Party (NAP) and John opts for Nindugla Freedom Fighters Party (NFFP). Considering this scenario, how can John claim to be an intellectual and Peter or any other member of NAP is not, simply because of the different political opinions they hold?

Quite obviously, this line of thinking is synonymous with shallow-mindedness, mistaken rather to be a show of intellectualism. It is rather too lowly of a person to question another’s intellect on the basis of such things as this – a mere political choice. Engage a person on any intellectual discourse and if he fails woefully on that footing, you can claim intellectual superiority over that person as far as that particular discourse is concerned. One’s political choice cannot and should not be a basis for determining his intellectual prowess.

Regarding Conversation B, it is pertinent to note that perhaps no leader is holistically without blemish. They all have their flaws. You may have your reason(s) for believing that one party or candidate is better than another. Another may have different reasons for opting for a different candidate as opposed to the one you prefer. You shouldn’t expect everyone to make the choice that you would. The best you could do in such circumstances is to try to present to the other person the reason why your preferred candidate is the better choice. Even then, the final decision still rests on the person you may be trying to convince. Everyone can discern and determine what is better for him. So you can disagree with one’s choice, but that does not invalidate it. And that is what democracy is all about. Learn to let people be with their choices.

Concerning Conversation C, it may be the case that some political parties have no chance at all at winning any election. But that does not make them less of political parties. They are treated the same way as the other so-called bigger parties. Laws that regulate political party activities apply to them equally. I do not want to rehash those laws here for want of space. But no one should be made to feel inferior because of the political ideology they subscribe to. Everyone has their reason for choosing a political party and the fact that people regard some parties as being incapable of assuming the reign of government by no means prevents people from subscribing to the political ideologies of such parties. Perhaps the wind of change may blow across the length and breadth of the country some day and one of those so-called smaller parties may ascend political power. Again, that is the essence of democracy.

In conclusion, the essence of this ‘rabid ranting’ that I am engaging in here boils down to the point of affirming that everyone has the right to choose in the exercise of his free will. The ability and strength to decipher right from wrong emanates from the instincts of our moral courage. Each individual’s instincts differ from those of another. So we should not expect everyone to subscribe to the same ideology as far as politics is concerned. We must learn to respect people’s choices even if they do not sync with ours. How you see your political choice to be better than another’s is the same way that the other person sees his. So no one has the right whatsoever to force his political opinion on another. It makes absolutely no sense to do that. Once again, learn to respect the choices of others, because it is within their lawful bounds to make choices as rational beings.