“Finally, around 9:00 pm, aided by a police escort in the middle of a thick charged crowd, I was able to submit my polling centre results at the coalition centre. I quickly left the place not interested in what will happen next. Anytime I get to talk about this experience, I am always asked ‘so would you do it again?’ and my answer has always been, maybe I will, maybe I will not.”
These were exactly my words when I last wrote about my not too exciting experience as a Presiding Officer in the 2019 district assembly election.
As fate may have it, again, I just finished working for the Electoral Commission (EC) in the just ended voters registration exercise as a Registration Officer (RO) and the question I always pose about the work of the EC still remains: While it may look easy for a voter to take the electoral process for granted, what is it like being at the other side making sure that elections are free and fair and all voters have confidence in the system?
This obviously is one question that seems to have been relegated to the background in many conversations. Even when it crosses the minds of many, I am certain it is either deliberately or unintentionally brushed aside despite the relevance of the kind of discourse it is supposed to generate.
Having been actively involved in the processes of the election in different times as a temporary EC official, I can confidently give myself plenty of reasons to claim that the work of the EC is one of the most important but toughest jobs that can be given to a person.
Whilst the duties of an electoral officer as spelt out on paper may look pretty simple, what pertains on the ground (centres) is a different ball game altogether.
The usual posture of the majority of these party people who throng to the polling centres even when they are not supposed to be is; either you are with me or you belong to the other side.
Trust me, whom you laugh with, walk with, talk to, and the colour of the dress you put on, or whose residence you even urinate can all generate unnecessary and unhealthy suspicions from these party people.
The result of this is a broken trust for the EC and a muddying of the serene environment created for the ordinary man and woman who have come from their homes and offices to cast their vote.
This, for me, is the beginning of the insecurity with the electoral process.
I have also observed over time that an uninformed and a naïve polling/party agent is always a thorn in the flesh of the EC official and also a danger to the whole electoral process. These people usually express concerns about the system unnecessarily; they raise minor procedural issues just to halt the process.
Other party people join in from nowhere, leading to the exchange of strong words between the party people. Things get ugly, some party big wigs eventually appear.
Some of them, rather than helping to calm things, incite and fuel confusion. The centre is thrown into a state of total chaos with nothing meaningfully electoral happening, except people arguing, shouting, fighting and the police struggling to maintain peace.
At this point, it’s impossible for the party people to agree on anything. The impudence you see among some young people and some party people is heartbreaking. What these people forget is that violence has no eyes and sees no colour. Innocent people become victims.
For a trained EC official like myself, I have always known that the thumb and ballot is the most potent peaceful change tool in this democratic moment.
So as one of my other unwritten but very significant roles, I try as much as I can to lead everyone who comes to the centre into peace, rather than getting drawn into their conflict and their unending series of suspicions and tensions that only lead to more and more violence.
Take it or leave it, recent happenings prior to the 2020 Presidential elections are enough to let us know that we are in a special time when peace is most needed.
The EC and her officials can do their part but achieving a peaceful free and a fair election is not limited to only them; we all have to contribute to it.
A peaceful election can be achieved starting from our homes as we leave them to vote; from our offices with co-workers as we chat and head toward the polling centres to exercise to use our thumb and not our fist; from our political party offices as we send agents to represent our political parties.
In the end, when peace is achieved, we all become beneficiaries of it.
If there is anything I am glad about as a worker with the EC, it’s not just the role I play in helping organize a free and fair election but the fact that I collect positive energies from previous experiences to promote peace.
For all EC officials whether permanent or temporary, I can only say that the task at hand will not be easy, but we have the mandate to ensure that Ghana continues to enjoy peace.
To the party bigwigs and party agents who will end up at the polling centres, be the peace you want to see in Ghana.
My name is Eric Ziem Bibiebome, I am a temporary worker for the EC and I Stand for Peace.