I spent a greater portion of the night of 6th January 2021 observing the nine-hour proceedings as the nation’s House of Parliament got itself ready to elect a Speaker and Deputies as well as have the 8th Parliament inaugurated.
Having come from the background of a general election that had witnessed a majority of either imposed candidates losing their bid to be elected as Members of Parliament, it was quite absurd that the ruling NPP at the highest level was attempting to once again determine in such brazen and overt manner, its preference of candidate for the role.
Right from the outset, it was clear that the NDC had arrived at the inauguration of the Parliament with a game plan. They all wore white, gathered in one location from where they were commuted in a convoy of four buses to Parliament at 9.00 pm (three clear hours before the stated time for convening the new Parliament).
Immediately they arrived, they informed prying journalists that they wanted to hold a caucus meeting (which was very usual) but actually dashed straight into the Chamber and took over the Majority section.
This move clearly ruffled the NPP members who arrived some one hour later in a not-too-coordinated fashion. Clearly, the NDC side had won a psychological victory with the white dress code and seating in the Majority seats.
This greatly unsettled the NPP caucus some of who were dead angry and attempted to fight for their seats. Over the next two hours, all attempts variously by them to reverse the situation yielded nothing. They had to be content sitting in the Minority section.
When the 8th Parliament was finally called to order with prayer after midnight, Hon. Alex Kwamina Afenyo Markin raised a preliminary inquiry about a Court Order that had been issued in a Cape Coast High Court with regards to the Assin North Member of Parliament-Elect.
He wanted to find out the actions that had been taken by the Clerk regarding the matter. Fully aware that this was going to be raised, the NDC caucus in unison banged their desks amid catcalls. In spite of all the elucidations by Hon. Kyei Mensah Bonsu, the NDC made sure that they were not going to be done in. Honourables Haruna Iddrisu, Dominic Ayine and Mahama Ayariga insisted on being heard. The Clerk gave his ‘ruling’.
In the end, the Assin North MP who had earlier been ruled to be ineligible to be in the House for the time being, and had been led off by the Marshals, was ushered back to his seat and a disclaimer issued by the Clerk about the aftermath consequences. The NDC had won its second victory of the night.
The House at this stage was now 137-138 (Independent Fomena MP having sat with the NPP caucus). It was now time for the election of the Right Honourable Speaker. Immediately, the Clerk called for nominations, Hon. Haruna Iddrisu was on his feet. Ordinarily from the conventions in our Parliament since 1993, the first nominations are always made by the Majority Leader.
Why the NPP caucus ‘allowed’ space to allow Hon. Iddrisu to rise up and catch the eye of the Clerk first surprised me. He nominated Hon. Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin and proceeded to read out a very elaborate resume on him. This was obviously seconded by another from his caucus.
When the call was made asking if there was any other nomination, Hon. Kyei Mensah Bonsu then rose up with his nomination of Prof. Mike Aaron Ocquaye and followed the same procedure.
Without any further nominations, the Clerk called in the Electoral Commission officials to proceed with the conduct of the elections. When voting started, another challenge came up. The NDC objected to an arrangement put in place by the NPP for the Chief Whip to see the ballots of their members before being cast in the ballot box.
They argued that it did not satisfy the secrecy of the ballot as contained in the Standing Orders of the House and offended the constitutional clauses as set out in Article 95 of the Constitution. This led to a very long period of stalemate that degenerated into fisticuffs, destruction of State property, invasion of members of the Armed Forces, etc lasting for about five hours. Sanity eventually prevailed when the NPP caucus agreed to allow the vote to be cast and dropped in full secrecy.
At that point, I was clear in mind that the die was cast and former Speaker would not win the election. Immediately the composition of the 8th Parliament became clear though the gazetting by the Electoral Commission, a number of names began to be bandied about as potential candidates for the Speakership of the House.
While it is known from previous conventions that the Majority caucus nominates the Speaker and 1st Deputy Speaker while the Minority caucus does same for the 2nd Deputy Speaker position, the action of the NDC in 2005 by offering a counter-nomination broke the convention.
With the almost split nature in the composition of the 8th Parliament coupled with the animosity from the December 7 presidential election results and an unresolved number of parliamentary seats, it was clear that the NDC was going to nominate a candidate.
Hitherto, the parties undertook various meetings culminating in the nomination on the floor of the House. For whatever reason, the NPP decided in 2021 to issue an official statement announcing what the composition of its frontbench was going to be like as well as its candidate for speakership.
Here again, I found it incongruous. Article 95 (1) of the 1992 Constitution stipulates that: “There shall be a Speaker of Parliament who shall be elected by the members of Parliament from among persons who are members of Parliament or who are qualified to be elected as members of Parliament”. The situation where the Leaders of the caucuses did the nomination(s) is only a convention. Thus, any member is qualified to nominate any person for the office of Speaker.
The approach of the NPP in releasing the statement on its intended nomination created a certain impression of bullying its MPs-Elect into some kind of submission. Interestingly, this was followed up with a threat by the NPP General Secretary that “there is no way that we are going to lose the Speakership; we will win the First Speaker, the First Deputy Speaker. And per what the constitution dictates, we cannot have one party having all the three speakership position.
So by that, the third one can go. But even with that, if they do not cooperate, we may have a situation where the only independent candidate becomes the Second Deputy Speaker. So I think it is in the interest of all of us to cooperate and not to put on a needless contest in order for us to all come together and work together for the cohesion that we need.” Considering the split nature, I thought this was overly unnecessary and could serve as a provocation to an NDC side that rather needed to be courted.
At this point in my view, the NPP had to work its way in arriving at a consensus candidate who would appeal to some across the divide in the House. Prof. Mike Ocquaye had had very raucous encounters with some MPs from both sides of the House and a secret was not going to serve his interest in any way.
The NDC on the hand was seeking to bring in Hon. A.S.K. Bagbin, a very affable member who had been in the House since its inception and who had built very enduring relationships with several MPs in the NPP caucus, not to talk about his own NDC caucus. It was, therefore, a great risk to re-submit the nomination of Prof. M.A. Ocquaye.
Whereas the NPP caucus seems to have placed so much confidence in their intended deployment of the three-line whip to rein in its 138 members, the NDC side appeared to have made overtures to a few NPP members. All that they needed was the strict use of the secret balloting and their candidate was elected.
This appears to have accounted for five or so hours of back and forth in the fight between the two caucuses as to how the voting was to be done. When the secret voting finally began, the NDC Chief Whip, for obvious reasons, still stood at a vantage point to ensure that balloting was done in full secrecy. That was the trump card needed to ensure protection for the one or two votes they needed from the NPP caucus.
It looks as though the NPP caucus’ sole strategy was the deployment of the moribund three-line whip to get its way with the election. Clearly, the NDC and its parliamentary caucus went into the election of the Speaker with a clearly mapped out strategy and they implemented it to the letter. Were they not aware that the Clerk (Presiding Officer) was relatively very new and could buckle under the weight of pressure as exerted by the NDC caucus to stick to the rule of secret ballot as contained in the Standing Orders?
When the results of the election became clear, the NDC caucus went into wild jubilation while the NPP side was in utter shock and disbelief about the unfolding events. The thought of the former Speaker losing the vote had never ever been given a thought. In fact, the brochure Swearing-in Ceremony had actually been printed with the picture of Prof. Ocquaye boldly emblazoned in it as the Speaker of the 8th Parliament. In the eyes of the party, the admonition of the party’s late General Secretary, “fear delegates” was far from occurring but it had actually happened. They had miscalculated big time.
Since then, Hon. Samuel Atta Akyea (MP, Akyem Abuakwa South) in an interview said that “there are some ‘Judas Iscariots’ in the quarters of the NPP who will be fished out and disciplined”. Similar allusions have been made by the Deputy General Secretary, Nana Obiri Boahen who remarked, “We are very sad and have even lost appetite. We are even thinking of the loss of many seats and this has also happened. If nothing at all we have 137 Parliamentarians and one independent candidate so what happened for one vote to be spoilt. And the person who didn’t vote for the NPP is very regrettable.”
Instead of focussing on the quality of their candidature considering the complexities of the electoral college for the specific election, the NPP apparatchiks are still fixated on who voted ‘x’ and who did not.
Clearly, the NPP parliamentary caucus overlooked the fact that they were presenting a not-too-popular candidate, and were going to struggle to disenfranchise the Assin North MP (who at the time of sitting had not properly been served the ruling from the Cape Coast High Court). In addition, they were going to face an uphill task in getting approval to deploy the three-line-whip voting approach and finally were going to be confronted with a very hostile NDC caucus as a result of the unresolved fights over the distribution of parliamentary seats.
Having clearly succeeded in deploying secret ballot in the election of the Speaker, I am almost certain in my mind that in the approval of all contentious bills, agreements and Committee reports, the NDC caucus will insist that approval are done by secret ballot. Should that happen, they will deploy the same strategies to vote out government reports, agreements and bills they do not agree to.
Beginning his inaugural speech, President Nana Akufo-Addo stated, “I must, at the outset, express my warm congratulations to my good friend and colleague of many years in this House, the Rt. Hon. Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, on his assumption of office as the Speaker of the Eighth Parliament of the 4th Republic. Nearly three decades of devoted service to Parliament by you has culminated in this moment, which has seen your elevation to the third great office of the state of our nation.
Together, you and I will be chartering new territory in the governance and politics of the 4th Republic, for this is the first time in the life of this Republic that a President from one party will be obliged, by the exigencies of the moment and the will of the people, to work, in all sincerity and co-operation, with a Speaker of Parliament from another party.
I am confident that both of us will be guided in our relationship by the supreme interest of our people in ensuring good governance in the ordering of the affairs of state. I want to assure you of my wholehearted determination to work with you to advance the peace, progress and prosperity of the Ghanaian people.
Once again, many congratulations to you and the re-elected and new Members of Parliament”.
Indeed, the 8th Parliament promises to be a very interesting one and we will wait with bated breath as things unfold. God bless our Republic and its Parliament!