The west African country of Ghana has long been hailed as a beacon of democracy in the region. The parliamentary system, adopted by Ghana since its independence in 1957, has played a crucial role in its political stability and economic development. In this post we will explore the key features of the parliamentary system in Ghana and highlight its contributions to the country’s democratic progress.
History of the parliamentary system in Ghana
The parliamentary system in Ghana has undergone significant changes and developments since the country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1957. Here is an overview of the history of the parliamentary system in Ghana:
Prior to gaining independence, Ghana was known as the Gold Coast and was a British colony. It was under direct British colonial rule, and there was no parliamentary system in place during this period. During this period is when all ceremonial activities used the British National Anthem – “God Save The Queen”, including international events.
Independence and Early Years (1957-1966)
Ghana, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party (CPP), became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from colonial rule on March 6, 1957.
In 1957, Ghana adopted a parliamentary system of government, with a Westminster-style model similar to the British system.
The first elections were held, and the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly became the Ghanaian Parliament. Kwame Nkrumah served as Ghana’s first Prime Minister and later became its first President when Ghana became a republic in 1960. His government centralized power and pursued socialist policies.
A national call for submission of entries of songs was made to replace the British Anthem. Philip Gbeho emerged as the winner and Ghana’s National Anthem was adopted on 6th March 1957. That same year, the Ghana national flag was designed by Theodosia Okoh.
2 days before Ghana’s independence, the Ghana Coat of Arms was commissioned by the then colonial British Government to a graphic designer (Mr. Amon Kotei) who was working with the then government. This ‘Coat of Arms’ symbol was used for all the West African British colonies (Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone).
Political Instability and Military Rule (1966-1981)
In 1966, Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown in a military coup, leading to a period of political instability in Ghana. The parliamentary system was suspended, and the country was ruled by military governments for several years.
Return to Multiparty Democracy (1992-Present)
In 1992, Ghana adopted a new constitution and returned to a multiparty democracy. The Fourth Republic of Ghana established a presidential system with a directly elected president and a parliament.
The Parliament of Ghana consists of a unicameral legislature, with Members of Parliament (MPs) elected through a combination of first-past-the-post and proportional representation systems.
Ghana’s Parliament has been composed of multiple political parties, with the two main parties being the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Since 1992, Ghana has held regular elections, including presidential and parliamentary elections, and has experienced peaceful transitions of power.
- Ghana’s parliamentary system continues to evolve, with periodic elections, changes in leadership, and the growth of political pluralism.
- The Parliament of Ghana plays a crucial role in the country’s democratic processes, including the formulation of laws and the oversight of the executive branch.
The current structure of the Parliamentary System in Ghana
The parliamentary system in Ghana is a multi-party system where the legislative branch holds significant power. It consists of the President, who serves as the head of state, and a unicameral legislature known as the Parliament of Ghana. The legislature comprises 275 Members of Parliament (MPs), representing constituencies across the country. The President is elected separately through a nationwide election.
It is largely based on the British Westminster model and it consists of two main components: the executive branch and the legislative branch. The executive branch is led by a president as the head of state and a prime minister as the head of government, while the legislative branch is made up of the parliament, comprising elected representatives.
Some of the advantages of this kind of system are:
- Its ability to foster inclusivity and representation. The MPs represent various constituencies across the country, ensuring that the diverse needs and concerns of different regions are adequately addressed.
- Its checks and balances mechanism. The separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches ensures that no single entity has absolute power. The parliament, through its committees and oversight functions, holds the government accountable for its actions and decisions. This system promotes transparency and reduces the likelihood of abuse of power, contributing to a more accountable and responsive government.
- Encourages political stability through coalition-building. In a multi-party system like Ghana’s, it is common for no single party to secure an outright majority in parliament. This necessitates the formation of coalition governments, where different parties come together to govern and make collective decisions. Coalition governments foster compromise and negotiation, ensuring that policies and legislation reflect the interests of a broader range of citizens.
- Despite any current economic challenges, they have attracted foreign investment and promoted economic growth. The government’s ability to pass legislation and implement policies efficiently has played a crucial role in attracting businesses and investors.
Challenges in Ghana’s Parliament
While Ghana’s parliamentary system has many strengths, it is not without challenges. Some of the challenges include:
- Corruption: Corruption remains a significant concern in Ghanaian politics. MPs and government officials have been implicated in corruption scandals, undermining public trust.
- Partisanship: Excessive partisanship can sometimes hinder productive debates and cooperation in Parliament, leading to legislative gridlock.
- Electoral Issues: The electoral process has faced challenges, including allegations of voter fraud and irregularities. Electoral reforms are ongoing to address these issues.
The Parliamentary Elections
Let’s take a look at the different types of elections that take place in Ghana.
- Presidential elections: These are held every 4 years to elect the President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces through the Majoritarian System (Two-Round System).
- Parliamentary elections: This election is also held every 4 years to elect representatives to the National Assembly. Both these elections are held on the same day.
- Local Government elections: These are held at least six months before or after parliamentary elections. These consist of District Assembly and Unit Committee elections.
- District Assembly elections: This election is held every 4 years to elect electoral area representatives to the District Assemblies.
- Unit Committee Elections: Also held every 4 years to elect representatives to the Units.
- Referendum: These allow people to express their opinion and vote for or against the proposed issue or amendment to the Constitution.
**Information referenced from: https://ec.gov.gh/electoral-system/
Functions of the Ghanaian Parliament
- Lawmaking: One of the primary functions of the Ghanaian Parliament is to make and amend laws. Bills can be proposed by the government or individual MPs. These bills go through a rigorous legislative process, including readings and debates, before they become laws.
- Oversight: Parliament plays a crucial role in overseeing the activities of the executive branch. MPs scrutinize government policies and actions, ensuring transparency and accountability. Parliamentary committees, such as the Public Accounts Committee, play a vital role in this regard.
- Representation: MPs represent their constituents’ interests in the national legislature. They raise issues affecting their constituencies and advocate for policies that benefit their constituents.
- Budget Approval: Parliament has the authority to approve the national budget presented by the government. This ensures that public funds are allocated and spent in a transparent and accountable manner.
- Debates and Discussions: The Ghanaian Parliament provides a platform for robust debates and discussions on various issues, including national development, social policies, and economic matters. These debates help shape the country’s policies and direction.