The Speaker of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Sidie Mohammed Tunis, has lamented that the sub region is attracting bad image with recent military putsches, tenure elongations and undemocratic constitutional amendments in some countries.
The Speaker said this in Winneba, Ghana in his opening address at the high-level parliamentary seminar on 20 years of democratic elections in West Africa.
Recently, there was coup d’etat in Mali and Guinea, where the nations armies took power as a reaction to plan elongation of tenures by democratic governments.
The theme of the Seminar is: “Evaluating Two Decades Of Democratic Elections In The ECOWAS Region: Achievements, Challenges And The Way Forward.”
Tunis said that while governments in the region condemn coup d’etats, it is important that they give serious attention to the new phenomenon of amending the constitution of a state before an election or before the expiration of the tenure of an incumbent president.
He said: “Amending a constitution to conform to current realities is not in itself a problem. When the proposed amendments to the constitution protect the governing elite at the expense of citizens or will undermine the very nature of constitutional democracy, thereby granting an incumbent undue advantage to extend his mandate, then we have a problem,”
He said the truth is that “this practice is eroding the gains we have made as a community, sinking the region into more chaos, and creating a serious reputational risk tar ECOWAS as an institution.”
He added that: “If we do not take firm and very decisive actions against this ugly trend, ECOWAS will not only be perceived as a body of failed states but will indeed fail.”
Tunis identified hijacking of electoral processes, voters’ fraud and disenfranchisement, attack on free speech and the press, as vices that attack a country’s electoral system and take nations away from the core of democracy.
He said: “Considering the effect these have caused us and the toil they continue to have on the region, it has become necessary that we go beyond statements that merely condemns these actions and consider imposing harsher penalties on would be perpetrators.”
According to the ECOWAS Speaker, the anticipation is that at the end of this seminar, members of parliament and all participants would have a better understanding process and laws as they impact on democratic practices in the ECOWAS region.
He said: “The seminar would ensure that they have greater appreciation of the practices that are enhancing and deepening participatory democracy and elections. This will set the seal on recommendations for policy frameworks and corrective ethos based on best practices for future for adaptation for elections and participatory democracy.
““The weight of the expectations of the people we serve rests on our shoulders. One of the major ways we can protect the interest of the people is by ensuring that the policies and frameworks that emanate from our decision-making process are people centered. As leaders, we must ensure that the will of the people is not subverted. The choice they make during elections is sacrosanct and must be treated as such.”