Renowned Lawyer Sam Okudzeto has questioned the basis of an application filed by the governing National Democratic Congress at the Supreme Court to join President John Dramani Mahama as respondent in an electoral dispute petition brought against him and the Electoral Commission by the NPP.
On December 28, 2012, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the presidential candidate of the opposition New Patriotic Party in the last election, his Vice Presidential Candidate Dr. Mahamud Bawumia and the chairman of the party, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey filed a petition at the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the election results declared by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission.
In that petition, the petitioners named John Dramani Mahama and Electoral Commission as the only respondents. But the NDC has filed an application at the Supreme Court seeking to join as respondents arguing that, John Dramani Mahama contested the elections on the ticket of the party.
But speaking on Joy News current affairs programme, pm: Express, Mr Sam Okudzeto questioned the legal basis for that application. He told Programme host, Stephen Anti that, he did not see the legal basis for such an application because the substantive petition was not filed by a political party, NPP.
“I don’t see the basis for it, because the NPP did not go to court. The law does not permit political parties in the case of an electoral dispute to petition the Supreme Court”, he said. Although he fell short of out-rightly saying the decision was ill-advised, Lawyer Okudzeto said: “The NDC could have used an interested party, make an application to the Supreme Court for that individual to join, but it is the responsibility of the Supreme Court to decide whether he/she is qualified to join the case as respondent or not”.
In explaining the procedures and the various laws, he said: “The Constitution talks about a Ghanaian not a political party……so you have to be a citizen before you can bring an election petition before the Supreme Court.”
He was also emphatic that the decision of the NPP’s National Counsel to boycott the inauguration of President John Dramani Mahama and his Vice, Kwesi Amissah-Arthur on January 7, is of no legal effect.
Court case is healthy for our democracy
Despite what appears to be a legal wrangle, starting with the challenge of the election results at the Supreme Court, Lawyer Okudzeto was of the view that this development is a healthy one for Ghana’s democracy and judicial independence.
“It is very interesting, the first of its kind in our country where a Presidential election is being challenged. I think it’s a good development for the country. Because you know when the laws are made as in the constitution, you’ll never know unless it is tested”, he said.
He said Ghana was so much respected in the League of Nations for its democratic development and that the petition and application by the NDC, all demonstrate to the world that, when there are disputes, Ghanaians resort to the courts for redress.
“Article 64 of the constitution clearly outlines what must be done in the event of an election dispute…where there is an election dispute, a citizen can challenge that in the Supreme Court”, he said.
Making reference to “The Manual of Electoral Adjudication” written by the Judicial Service, Mr. Okudzeto said, “the Judiciary had anticipated that these issues could happen”. This, he maintained, was a good development Ghanaians should cherish.
When asked what he made of the NPP’s decision to hold a press conference with details of the petition it filed at the Supreme Court, Mr. Okudzeto pointed out that, it could not be cited as contempt or jeopardizing the case in anyway.
“The decision of the NPP to hold a press conference to put out information about the petition does not amount to contempt nor does it weaken the case of the NPP in any way”.
He went on; “If you go public to talk about the merits and demerits of the matter, then you are in contempt. But putting out information to the public, the way the NPP did does not constitute contempt”.
On the issue of whether the NPP indeed, has a water tight case, he said, “there is the possibility to win or lose before the Supreme Court….you can win you can lose, but when you do, you can go again. It is not mathematics….law is not mathematics.”
Presidential immunity does not apply
One of the legal arguments that have been put out is the fact that Presidential Immunity does not permit the President to be cited in any legal case while he is in office, suggesting that the NPP’s decision to name the President as respondent in its petition was an error in law.
In response to this, Lawyer Okudzeto said: “The President has not been sued. John Dramani Mahama stood for election as a citizen of Ghana, and therefore you cannot present a petition challenging the election without naming him as a person”.
Many have also argued that if the Supreme Court rules in favour of Nana Akuffo-Addo and overturns the election results in his favour, it will be impossible to rule the country with a Minority in Parliament.
The question put to him was: would such a Supreme Court decision be healthy for Ghana’s democracy?
“Of course it is healthy, the problem is that sometimes we use some form of mathematical formula to confuse the public”, he responded.
He cited the example of the U.S where the Republican Party leads the House of Representatives while the Democrats control the Senate. “We have confused the executive and the legislature as being one institution, but that’s not what it’s meant to be…they are supposed to offer checks and balances, not one controlling the other…what we are doing is that, we are turning it upside down”, he said.
Comments on elections
Asked what his views about the conduct of the 2012 elections were, Mr Sam Okudzeto said: “Sometimes in Ghana it depends on who you are talking to…people take too much entrenched positions that sometimes they become blind. I’ve monitored elections and have seen various malpractices… People have voted without their names on the register. I’ve seen situations where an electoral officer at the end of the voting, took an entire booklet and thumb printed all for a particular party and was putting them in the ballot box when someone held his hand”.
He called for introspection and patience when a group of people complain about electoral malpractice. “When someone is complaining of malpractice, we shouldn’t be quick to condemn that person. A lot of things go on at the blind side of the Electoral Commissioner, and it would have been good if all electoral matters are resolved before the election results are declared,” he said.
Lawyer Okudzeto expressed the desire that over time, Ghana’s development would rise above party politics to the level where governments would be guided by a laid down development plan for the good of the country.