Soldiers from Ghana‘s Armed Forces had to be called in on Wednesday night to retain sanity in the country’s parliamentary chamber after disagreements over sitting arrangements broke out into full-fledged chaos.
For about an hour, the floor of Ghana’s parliament was the scene of threats, heckling, shoving and unadulterated insults among members. The proceedings were live on national TV.
Wednesday the 6th of January, 2021 itself would live in global infamy because of the invasion of a pro-Donald Trump mob of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. But in Accra, Ghana’s capital, Africa’s most enviable democracy was gearing up to offer its own governmental drama.
On the night, lawmakers belonging to the National Democratic Congress (NDC), chose to take their seats on the right side of the central position of the speaker’s seat. That right side is reserved for the party that has the majority in Ghana’s unicameral legislature.
The NDC felt aggrieved that December 7 election results in certain constituencies (districts in the United States), had been rigged. If their intra-party calculations were right on election day, the NDC believes they should be the majority in Ghana’s parliament.
According to Ghana’s electoral commission, the 275-member parliament was actually split down the middle with the other major party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) securing 137 seats, as did the NDC. The remaining seat was won by an independent, formerly tied to the NPP. However, the results supporting some of the seats are still under legal contention.
Ghana’s constitution is not clear on what to do under these circumstances but Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu, a veteran legal practitioner and an MP from the NPP, is of the opinion that there is no such thing as a hung parliament in the Ghanaian legislative process.
“There is no hung parliament in Ghana. People should learn the rules of procedure in this house. People should be awoken from their dreamland,” Mensah-Bonsu said earlier in the week when President Nana Akufo-Addo addressed the country on the floor of parliament.
But Mensah-Bonsu’s sentiments do not appear entirely shared by the president, his former parliamentary colleague, and fellow party faithful. On Monday, Akufo-Addo told MPs that, “The good people of Ghana have spoken and given parliament an almost equal strength on both sides of the House. We need to work with the consequences of the desires of the people”.
Ghana’s fourth republic has witnessed uninterrupted changes of government since 19 years of Jerry Rawlings‘ military rule ended in 1992. Rawlings, who died late last year, is credited with ushering in the current constitution and the culture of political stability Ghana has been known for.
But the West African nation is also deeply divided along partisan lines. A political party, usually the NPP or the NDC, carries Ghana’s presidential elections and wins a clear majority in parliament. The last election was, however, unexpectedly different, with the NPP throwing away a more than 40-seat advantage from the election in 2016.
The effect of this huge loss in the House is already being felt as Akufo-Addo was sworn into his second term on Thursday morning. The NDC managed to get elected, their choice for the position of the speaker of the House. That electoral process was marked by its own drama as an NPP lawmaker snatched ballot papers on the floor of parliament, as they were being counted, and tried to run away with them.
The member of parliament was prevented security in the chamber, after which his opponents manhandled and verbally abused him.
For now, Ghana’s 76-year-old leader knows he would have to walk a fine line if he is to court the support of NDC lawmakers. The current climate is unprecedented and it is one whose lessons Ghanaians would learn the hard way.