Jane Mensah is not scared to stir controversies. Of course, if you're the chair of an Electoral Commission anywhere in the world, you probably will need a thick skin like that which is being exhibited by Ghana’s Electoral Commissioner, Jane Adukwe Mensah to succeed, even if that success is judged through the lense of the person at the centre of the storm.
It’s a highly contemptuous position that, any decision taken by an Electoral Commissioner, Jane Mensah inclusive, is likely to be objected to by an opposition that finds such, not likely to help in their political cause or fortune.
The only strange thing about the Ghanaian situation is that every Electoral Commissioner that we have had over the period of the 4th Republic, is considered an appendage of a sitting administration or government.
The first Interim Electoral Commissioner, Josiah Ofori Boateng was accused of rigging the 1992 elections in favour of the NDC; Kwadwo Afari Gyan had his own share of the rigging allegations, except that he kept going by his thick skin.
Charlotte Osei couldn’t really get seated when then opposition at the time, NPP, ruffled her with an intention to steal the election for his appointees, the Mahama administration. She became the first casualty of the NPP administration when Akufo Addo assumed the reign of power.
The juggernaut continued the moment Akufo Addo replaced Charlotte Osei with Jean Mensah. Till today, many NDC folks are of the view that the 2020 election was rigged by the Jean Mensah-led Electoral Commission, despite the dismissal of former President Mahama’s election petition by the Ghanaian Supreme Court.
Jean Mensah and her share of controversies
Even before the 2020 elections, Jean Mensah was accused by the NDC and other opposition parties of preparing the grounds to rig the election in favour of the NPP and Nana Akufo Addo. This was in relation to the EC chair's decision to organize a new voters’ register in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Again she was accused of keeping prospective voters in the Volta Region frightened during the registration exercise. Many Voltains could not fathom the decision by the government to send security personnel to the NDC stronghold during the registration exercise.
Government’s argument was that the security was there to check possible influx of foreigners who will cross over from neigbouring Togo to come and take part in the Ghanaian registration exercise. Meanwhile at the time of the registration, the Ghana-Togo border was shut because of COVID-19.
But what irked many election observers was why government did not feel obliged to do same in other Ghanaian border towns with La Cote d’Ivoire and Burkna Faso. It’s the believe of some EC critics that Commission’s trickery in the Volta Region worked.
This is because after the registration exercise, votes in the Volta Region reduced drastically, as compared to that that was captured in the old voters' register. The issue of whether the low voter turn-out was due to the lack of influx of Togolese; or whether it was the presence of the security that scared prospective voters from registering, remains a contentious riddle that is still begging for answers.
The NEC chairperson is up to it again suggesting that the closing time for the 2024 election should be pegged at 3pm instead of the usual 5pm, that the country has known since the first 4th Republican elections in 1992. She made this known in her opening remarks at a two-day meeting with political parties and other partners where Jean Mensah proposed thus:
“We propose closing the polls at 3pm rather than 5pm. In 209, we announced our decision to close the polls at 3pm in the 2020 Elections. Nonetheless, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the stringent, and necessarily time consuming safety protocols we instituted at our polling stations, we were compelled to put that proposal on hold”
She revealed how practical her proposal is: “Over the past months, however, this proposal has resurfaced from sections of the public, and indeed, our own experience from the 2020 elections has revealed that it is a workable proposal as by 1pm, most polling stations were empty, suggesting that this is a workable proposal. Therefore, this is a reform we intend to put forward”.
Some commentators are even claiming that the 5pm election day closure has some serious problems, let alone to reduce the time by two hours. It was in similar haste to announce the results of the 2020 elections that many believe, contributed to the high rate of chaos at various voting centres on the day of voting.
It was same EC stance that led to the wrongful call of collated results by the Electoral Commissioner herself in the presidential election and also in some Parliamentary elections. In fact, Jean Mensah announced four different results in the 2020 presidential election.
The issue is, even with the 5pm closing time, elections in the Ghana have not been exhaustively completed in every part of the country within the 7am to 5pm period. This is because the Commission always has a problem with the distribution of electoral materials and logistics.
In the last elections, many electoral areas exceeded the closing time period because of either faulty biometric machines or late arrival of personnel and logistics. Again voting has never started same time of 7am throughout the country.
Not that electorate shun the starting time for voting, but because all of the EC’s, including that of Jean Mensah’s have never overcome the stated problems that characterize election day voting to ensure uniformity in election day time-table.
There is even the bigger issue of voting in areas considered over-seas. These are areas that one needs to use canoes to cross rivers before getting access to voting centres. In the past, including as recent as the 2020 elections, election materials got to the overseas areas as late as 11 am before voting starts.
It’s based on such anticipated challenges that stakeholders all agree since 1992, that the time for election day voting should have a maximum of ten hours, in the hope that all challenges pertaining to election days can be resolved amicably.