In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Ghana has declared that it is unconstitutional for chiefs to endorse candidates or political parties.
However, the court clarified that chiefs can praise or commend a candidate’s policies without violating the Constitution.
Justice Emmanuel Yonny Kulendi, who authored the court’s judgment in November 2022, explained that this conclusion aligns with the role of chiefs as advocates for the welfare and interests of their communities.
He emphasized that chiefs should refrain from endorsing specific candidates or parties, as it amounts to taking sides in a partisan political contest, which is disapproved by the constitution.
The case was brought before the court by legal practitioner Elorm Kwame Gorni against the Attorney General.
Mr. Gorni sought an interpretation of the term “active party politics” as stated in Article 276(1) of the Ghanaian constitution. This provision prohibits chiefs from participating in active party politics, stating that any chief seeking election to Parliament must abdicate their traditional position.
The Attorney General argued that the case did not require the court’s interpretation, as the term “active” is clear and unambiguous.
The AG asserted that a chief’s endorsement of a candidate for elective political office, without any further involvement in party politics, does not breach the constitution.
The AG maintained that chiefs, like all citizens, have the right to freedom of speech, expression, thought, conscience, and belief.
However, the Supreme Court concluded that the phrase “active party politics” raises a significant issue that warrants interpretation. Justice Kulendi emphasized the need to determine the precise boundaries of such participation.
Regarding chiefs and politics, Justice Kulendi acknowledged the elevated position chiefs hold in society and their influential role in governance and community development.
He noted that while chiefs are not considered public officers, the constitution disqualifies individuals with convictions involving fraud, dishonesty, or moral turpitude from assuming the role of chiefs.
“It is on account of the exceptional social and public status of chiefs that although chiefs are not public officers, the constitution disqualifies certain persons, notably persons convicted of offences involving fraud, dishonesty or moral turpitude from being chiefs.
“It is the same heightened concern with preserving and protecting the dignity of the chief’s office that partly underpins Article 276(1)’s banning of chiefs from taking part in active party politics,” myjoyonline quoted Justice Kulendi.
Justice Kulendi highlighted that chiefs are not prohibited from expressing their opinions on matters of public debate and discussion.
He stated that this strikes a balance between the rights of chiefs, the expectations associated with their role, and the public interest concerns addressed by the constitutional provision.
The court reviewed various statements made by chiefs provided by Mr. Gorni.
The statements praising a candidate’s policies, programs, or projects were deemed permissible endorsements and not unconstitutional. However, endorsements that specifically endorse a candidate or party and urge voters to support them were considered taking sides in a partisan political contest, which is disapproved of by the constitution.
The publication proceeded to state that:
“Citing several examples of projects undertaken in Duayaw Nkwanta, together with policies such as Free SHS, 1-District -1-Factory, and the programme for Planting for Food and Jobs, Nana Boakye Tromo III stated that “this clearly shows that you have been sent by God to lead us…”
“We are solidly behind you, and we are declaring today that four more for Nana’, ‘Four more to do more”
The Krontihene of Techimantia, Nana Ampong Koromantan is reported to have said;
“Today, we just want to tell you that we, in Techimantia, will never forget you for the construction of the Bechem-Techimantia-Akomadan road. Indeed the presence of a lot of townsfolk at this durbar testifies to the fact that we have already accepted you as one of us. It is four more for you.”
On his part, the Omanhene of Kenyasi No.1 Nana Kofi Abiri reportedly stated as follows:
“We pleaded with him to construct our roads for us, we also needed a TVER institute. He didn’t ignore our request as we can see machines constructing the road. We also said that we needed a mobile phone network at Wamahiniso, you have done it for us we are grateful.”
The Okyenhene, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin II is reported to have stated as follows:
“Just like the singer, Lucky Mensah, said in his songs, Nana Akufo-Addo has exceeded all expectations as President and must be given the nod to continue for a second term”.
The Omanhene of Mehame Traditional Area, Nana Owusu Kontoh II is said to have stated the following:
“I have a good road, electricity, ICT centre, health centre and nursing training college among other infrastructure developments and they are all because of Mr. Mahama and Alhaji Collins Dauda who is our MP.
The final comment produced in court was that of the Paramount Chief of the Waala Traditional Area, Naa Fuseini Seidu Pelpuo IV:
“No one, at least not one that has lived in this country can deny the fact that the evidence of your achievements during your tenure abound before us. I am therefore justified to bless your decision to contest the Flagbearer position of your party and by extension to seek a re-run for power in 2020”.
Justice Kulendi noted that the courts could not vouch for the accuracy of the statements. The court nonetheless said it will deal with them and conclude with the presumption that they are accurate. He concluded that the statements above that praise a policy or program or project of a candidate or party are permissible endorsements and not unconstitutional.
On the other hand, those other statements where a chief is heard to endorse the person of the candidate or his party or urging voters to vote for them are the kind of “taking sides” in a partisan political contest that the constitution disapproves of.