The date has been set for the decision on whether Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama was legitimately elected.
If the decision forces a new poll and the President is removed from office, Ghana will see its third new ruler in little more than a year, having recently marked the first anniversary of the death of John Evans Atta Mills.
For those outside Ghana who have never heard of the election petition case, public reaction to the decision, scheduled for August 29, will determine whether or not the issue stays on the national agenda or becomes world news.
It can be safely said that most Ghanaians hope it won’t be the latter.
Because of my position here in Ghana I must refrain from taking an opinion on political matters, but I can summarise and explain the main issues to give my family and friends at home a better idea of what is going on.
Since I arrived in May, the case has dominated the news headlines and almost every taxi ride is to the background noise of the live radio broadcast from the Supreme Court – which to be honest, has mostly involved a lot of throat clearing and paper shuffling.
At the heart of the case is an argument over whether 3.9 million votes registered in the December 2012 election should be annulled, potentially resulting in a return to the polls.
The opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) claims “gross and widespread irregularities” were recorded at more than 10,000 polling stations.
The petitioners claim that some people were allowed to vote without undergoing biometric verification, some pink sheets (a statement of poll and declaration of result form) were not signed and others had duplicate serial numbers.
The term “pink sheets” has become almost synonymous with the case itself after controversy surrounding the number of pink sheets led to an audit by international firm KPMG, which submitted a five-volume report in June.
The President, the Electoral Commission and the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) deny the NPP petitioners’ claims and argue that they have failed to prove them.
The Supreme Court, made up of nine judges, will decide on two matters: whether or not the claims of irregularities are true, and if so, whether those irregularities affected the outcome of the election.
There was originally no option to appeal against the decision but the court overturned that rule on April 30, so there is now potential for either party to request a review.
Who is Sir John?
Yesterday, alongside the news that a date had been set for the judgement, the Supreme Court also convicted the General Secretary of the NPP Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie, known as Sir John, for intentional criminal contempt of court.
He was ordered to pay a fine of GH$5000 (about $US2500). A member of the party’s communications team, Hopeson Adorye, was also convicted and fined.
Sir John was hauled before the court as a part of its crack down on contemptuous comments about the ongoing petition case. The crackdown has already seen the deputy communications director of the NPP banned from the hearing, as well as an editor and a member of the NDC handed short jail sentences (10 days and three days).
Sir John, a lawyer of 32 years, was reportedly charged over comments on radio suggesting the relatives of judges hearing the case start planning the judges’ funerals.
According to the Daily Graphic, Sir John’s lawyer, former Attorney-General Ayikoi Otoo, put some interesting strategies to the test in defending his client, including telling them that the previous day was his birthday and explaining that “some powers his client had no authority over called ‘Gbeshie’ might have come over him”.
In a spate of “spontaneous jubilation” on hearing the result, supporters at NPP headquarters reportedly rushed from their seats and threw themselves on the floor in a manner which “could be likened to the Biblical delight demonstrated by the Israelites after they witnessed the 600 chariots of the Egyptians consumed by the Red sea.” Did I mention Ghanaians like a bit of drama?
So, what happens after the decision?
The potential reaction to the decision is very much an unknown factor right now.
In the weeks since the court heard final comments from both parties, community and religious leaders have been urging Ghanaians to accept the result without violence.
Most people who I have talked to believe the result will likely be peaceful, with potential for some pockets of protest.
Despite a series of military coups since independence was granted in 1957, Ghana’s modern political history is relatively non-violent.
However, the country is not immune to small eruptions of protest. In the short time I have been here there was a situation in a suburb of the capital, Accra, where protests by drivers over the state of the roads led to some rioting.
There has also been a noticeable increase in police and military displays on the streets in preparation for the decision.
There are more police check points on the roads and just this morning, for example, we waited at traffic lights as a procession of police motorbikes and a truck carrying police with riot shields drove by with sirens blasting.
No matter the decision, I hope the police are able to pack up their riot gear, unscratched, after August 29.