The New Patriotic Party has definitely taken a bold step forward. For several months last year, they were singing “we are moving forward”. They were knocked off their tracks at the polls in December, but over the weekend they got themselves back on track and took major steps into the future. Those steps should help a great deal in deepening the democratic culture in Ghana and for that, they deserve a tonne of congratulations.

The constitutional amendments approved by NPP delegates at their special congress in Accra are very forward-looking and should pave the way for the various political parties to devolve power to the grassroots.

By voting so massively for the constitutional amendments, the NPP delegates delivered a rebuff to former President John Kufuor who quite unwisely opposed the changes, insisting that the party’s constitution needed no revision. His opposition to the amendments was yet another manifestation of how eight years as Chief Executive of the country have thrown Kufuor completely out of touch with the people – even his own people.

In rebuffing Kufuor, the delegates approved all the proposed amendments – except one. The party’s leadership in Parliament had tabled this proposal to insulate them and help them contest unopposed for re-election.

In a speech at the start of the conference, the party’s leader in Parliament, minority leader, Osei-Kyei Mensah-Bonsu delivered a rousing speech urging the delegates to vote for the amendments. He dwelled at length on the need for the party to retain its best brains in Parliament – apparently hoping to be spared the fate of predecessor, Abraham Osei-Aidoo, who lost his parliamentary seat after losing the constituency primaries last year. Mensah-Bonsu spoke of “all manner of men and women” showing up at the end of each legislative term to challenge sitting MPs, trying to “reap what they have not sown”.

Clearly, he must be disappointed that the one proposal the delegates voted against was the one that would have ensured that he kept running for parliament on the NPP’s ticket unopposed – year in, year out.

“There should not be any winners,” he said in his speech. “And there should not be any losers.”

But he should count himself among the losers of the day – along with the likes of Kufuor. Kufuor opposed – among more than 40 others – the proposal to enlarge the body of electors that will choose the party’s presidential candidates for future elections. This means the days of a few thousand easily corruptible ‘executives’ and big shots electing the person who leads the party into electoral battle are well and truly over. That decision will now be made by more than one hundred thousand individuals from every polling station in the country – including some of the lowliest of party faithful.

Ahead of the congress, it had been argued that such an arrangement will weaken the party’s central leadership. But as Osei-Kyei Mensah-Bonsu eloquently said, it would rather foster “a sense of belongingness… a sense of ownership” of the party at the grassroots. The NPP foot soldiers who were so restive in the last days of the Kufuor administration, crying that they had been abandoned, should be happy with the new provision in the party’s constitution.

The provision to enlarge the NPP’s electoral college marks a very big step forward, not just for the NPP but for democracy in Ghana. More power is being vested in the people and that’s what democracy is all about. The new provision doesn’t go as far as it could have gone, but it’s an important first step that should eventually lead to every card-bearing member of the party having a say in every major decision of the party – such as the election of executives and those who run for political office on its ticket.

Over the past eight years, the NPP delighted in doing some pretty nasty things that most Ghanaians would rather forget. But the small, first steps the party took at the Trade Fair Site in Accra (amidst sporadic scenes of violence, which should be condemned) are good examples for the other political parties to follow. Opening up the arena of decision-making to people at the grassroots is not as bad as Kufuor and his out-of-touch ilk think – it’s rather a very good thing. Hopefully, the NDC will not wait to be kicked out of power before it takes similar measures – to hand ownership of the party over to the people at the grassroots.

It’s not going to be easy. Organising elections at the polling station level to elect presidential candidates will be an expensive endeavour for any party. But democracy – power of the people, for the people, by the people – is not cheap. If good money needs to be spent to get as many people as possible participating in party decision-making, so be it.

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