Friday, January 11, 2008

Despite setbacks, presidential term limits remain best hope for African democracy

One concept that has spread throughout African democracies is term limits for presidents. They have been put in place for a reason, argues Appiah Kusi Adomako in the Ghanaian Chronicle, because “the more a politician stays in office the more likely corruption and abuse of power seem to be likely.”

Recently, a group of presidents have tried to stay in office past their terms by either changing the constitution (like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Eyadema Gnassingbé of Togo) or rigging the elections in favor of a chosen successor (like in Sierra Leone and Nigeria). Or, failing that, presidents can use their power to steal elections, like it appears what recently happened in Kenya.

From Mr. Adomako, here are a few suggestions on how to control abuse from incumbent presidents and level the political playing field.

Some school of thought has called for all incumbent presidents who want to stand for re-election to relinquish their position to allow for a free and fair election. This is not possible in every democratic process. What can we do make sure that democratic processes are not compromised? What has happened in Kenya can happen in every nation. It takes the electoral commissioner to rig election for the president when he wants to go for the second or third term.

It takes the Chief Justice and the Speaker of Parliament to interpret the constitution to favour a person especially when incumbent wants to go for the third term or do anything undemocratic in the democratic process.

So you would agree with me that military in Africa possess no threat to democracies but the institutions of the state-Electoral Commission, Judiciary and Legislative and finally the law enforcement agency to enforce illegalities.

We must be reminded that government by the people for the people still remains the sovereign definition of democracy. Leaders must accept the will of the people.

We can't forget the role presidential backers play as leaders decide to fudge ballots or what-not to remain in power. These power-brokers are accustomed the economic and political perks of supporting the person who occupies the country's State House. That's why the cash incentive offered by the Mo Ibrahim Prize for those who step down on time may be cynical, but very useful. (As if politics is somehow above cynicism.) A wad of cash may provide the necessary motive for once-wavering leaders to leave office, no matter what their backers say.

After a very lively 2007, this year proves to be somewhat quiet on the presidential election front. This year Ghana will hold a presidential election as will Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritius, “independent” Somilialand and Zimbabwe.

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