Ghana’s former President, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings has criticized the politics of the opposition being seen as an enemy, stating democracy is about providing space to the opposition.
He said: “In the politics of some countries, you are either a political friend or an enemy; there are no shades of grey in between.
“This sort of mindset is exacerbated by the mentality – and the actual experience in so many instances – of ‘winner takes all’. Democracy is about losers having political space, and the genuine opportunity to win back power at the next electoral test.”
President Rawlings made these remarks on Monday at the opening ceremony of a workshop on ‘Government and Opposition’ organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
Speaking to an audience of parliamentarians, political party leaders and civil society, the former President said politics involved the striking of balances and compromises between the Executive and the judiciary, between the Executive and the Legislature and between the judiciary and the legislature.
Democracy, the former President noted, “does not come with one or two elections, it does not grow overnight. Further, democracy cannot just be about rhetoric. It must have meaning, strong foundations and vibrant institutions. It must be inclusive and touch the lives of people.”
In a paper delivered to the workshop on the same day, President Rawlings charged parliamentarians to acknowledge that they have a responsibility to be selfless advocates, represent the truth, exercise utmost humility, and be ready to sow seeds of social, political, economic and cultural development for their people and country.
Speaking on the topic, ‘Government and Opposition: Roles and Responsibilities’, President Rawlings said parliamentary independence had been devalued by the overriding influence of political parties who tend to tele-guide every decision of members of parliament.
He said: “Indeed examples abound on the continent where an MP who goes contrary to the dictates of his party is ‘hounded’ out through the party’s sponsorship of another candidate when elections are due.
“I am not in any way advocating that we do away with the authority of the party. I am rather calling on our political parties and the Executive to respect the individual right of legislators to take responsible decisions on behalf of their constituents.”
The former President noted that if Parliamentarians draw their remuneration, research resources and other official funding direct from an independent, non-partisan structure it would encourage them to operate more independently and proactively.
Constructive, opposition President Rawlings noted is characterized by organized opposition that points out coherently the shortcomings of the Government of the day whilst offering practical alternatives to the electorate and wider group of citizens.
“The role of the opposition is to assist in finding a solution to national problems, not to compound them. They must not simply agree with the Government’s view. But in the absence of an agreement they must not be unnecessarily disruptive either of the search for a consensus on issues,” the former President said.
Touching on government’s responsibilities, President Rawlings said all governments must recognise that their mandate derives from the people whom they govern and that in the delegation of authority, or the protection of rights and freedoms, they should scrupulously uphold the tenets of the constitution, which specifies the limits of their power and authority and defends the rights of the citizenry.
The former President also said: “Democracy will thrive in an environment where the growth of civil society is unimpeded and encouraged. This involves encouraging the flow of ideas; data and opinions from such identified bodies, which span a wide and disparate spectrum.
“Civil Society also has an obligation not be partisan and should at all times desist from covertly or overtly exhibiting signs of partisanship – a creeping culture that is better exhibited in Ghana where many civil society organisations seem to be affiliated to either government or opposition and end up confusing the electorate with their conflicting analysis of the political and economic reality,” he stated.