The Eighth Parliament is very unique. Pending a final determination of the case against the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament for Assin North, the current balance of power is 137 New Patriotic Power (NPP), 136 (NDC) and one independent candidate.
The one independent caucuses with the NPP majority, making the balance 138 (NPP) and 136 (NDC). In the aftermath of the approval of the President’s six nominees for various ministerial positions on March 24, with the support of NDC Parliamentarians, the party finds itself dealing with a) a hostile public response and b) the appearance of cracks within the party.
In 2021, the Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) conducted a post 2020 election survey and asked – “In your opinion, how likely or unlikely is it that the current Parliament with the NPP and NDC having an equal number of seats will- a) force or ensure full attendance of all MPs during sitting in parliament; b) improve the practice of parliamentary democracy, thereby enhancing democratic development; c) keep the executive in check; and d) aid scrutiny of international contracts?” On the first three, eight out of ten (80 per cent) Ghanaians expected to see improvements. On the fourth, aiding scrutiny of international contracts, seven out of ten (73 per cent) Ghanaians expected to see improvements.
In short, Ghanaians had high expectations of the 8th parliament. There was another expectation, judging from public commentary, that the era of “the minority will have its say, but the majority will have its way” will end.
The NDC minority has 136 seats. This means that even if all 275 Members of Parliament (MPs) show up and vote strictly along party lines, the NDC minority will always lose the vote on any parliamentary matter. That is the first political reality it faces.
The second political reality it faces is that they are dealing with a very determined majority whose government has several policy priorities they are committed to seeing through. That was very clear from the eventual passage of the E-Levy after several months of a stalemate. Take for example the passage of Fiscal Year 2022 (FY2022) budget which was characterised by an initial walkout, a rejection by the NDC minority, a rescission of the vote and a final passage of that budget.
A final example is the vote of censure against the Finance Minister. Even when there had been a public call by several majority MPs for the finance minister to be sacked, none of them voted to support the motion. In short, the majority has shown that, save for absenteeism among its members, there will be no crossing over from their side to cast a vote in support of parliamentary matters deemed to be in the interest of the minority.
The third reality is that MPs must balance few interests — that of the nation, the constituents who voted for them, the party on whose platform they secured a seat in Parliament, and their own. All of these do not always converge easily. Sometimes, the interests will clash and choices, pleasant or unpleasant, will have to be made.
What should Minority MPs Do?
I understand the party’s position, and I am sure it is something the general public shares, that government must cut down expenditure and reduce the size of government. What I am not sure about is why the chosen legislative strategy to buttress that position was “a fight” over six nominees, all of whom were filling vacancies. And even though the party had issued a directive calling on its MPs not to cast a vote for the nominees, what was the guarantee that in a secret vote, there was not going to be any defections?
In the end, losing the vote is not what I find politically embarrassing. It is the defections in their camp in defiance of the party’s official position. How could the party and the minority leadership not see this coming?
The public response has been unkind to the NDC, but can you blame them? Among themselves, some of their sentiments have been unkind to each other.
This loss in Parliament is an opportunity for the NDC to ask what really matters in the grand scheme of things. Which legislative battles are worth fighting even if they are not guaranteed a political win? Nothing will gladden the hearts of the NPP more than to see signs of cracks on the NDC front in Parliament, as well as in the party. Is that a luxury the NDC can afford as it gears up for election 2024?
You fight the fights that are worth fighting, not the fights you think you can win. In the face of the political reality they face in Parliament, the NDC must figure out which fights are worth fighting.
Source: The writer is a fellow of CDD-Ghana
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