Why there may be yet another apathy in the 2023 District-Level Elections

District-level elections (DLE) constitute a vital component of Ghana’s decentralized governance, designed to foster and reinforce democratic engagement at the grassroots level. However, they have been marked by poor voter turnout and apathy among citizens, posing a setback to the principles of decentralization.

Since the 1988 district assembly election, the voter turnout has reduced from 59.3% in 1988 to 33.6 % in 2019, the last district-level elections. In between these years, there has been a fluctuating percentage of voter turnout in each of the elections held.

Year Percentage of Voter Turnout
1988/89 59.3%
1994 29.3%
2002 41.6%
2006 33.1%
2010 35.5%
2015 30.6%
2019 33.6%

For years, civil society organisations and governance advocacy groups have lamented the persistent display of disinterest and poor attitude towards the district-level elections and called for strategies to ensure the active participation of citizens.

A number of factors such as lack of civic education and low trust in the local government system contribute to the general lack of interest in the District Local Elections. Also, the low visibility and publicity of the DLE contribute largely to apathy for the elections.

The 8th District Assembly elections are expected to be held on Tuesday, December 19, 2023, in 6,272 electoral areas and 38,622 polling stations nationwide, covering 259 districts out of a total of 261. The Electoral Commission expects a 60 per cent voter turnout, a 20.4 per cent increase from the previous election held in 2019.

The President of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) has implored the media to sustain publicity on the polls. Yet, the posture of other key stakeholders leaves much to be desired.

Fact-Check Ghana undertook a review of the websites and social media profiles of 259 Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies (MMDAs), along with key stakeholders such as the Ministry of Local Government, Decentralisation, and Rural Development, the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), Local Government Service, Electoral Commission (EC), Ministry of Information, and the Information Services Department.

The review, carried out from Monday, December 4, 2023, to Sunday, December 17, 2023, about two weeks before the polls, aimed to gauge the extent to which these stakeholders have created visibility and provided relevant information on the upcoming elections.

Findings from the assessment of the platforms of the major stakeholders

As of December 17, 2023, two days before the DLE, the Local Government Service, a stakeholder tasked with the mandate of overseeing decentralisation and rural development, had no information or message on the district-level elections on its website and social media handles. (see here and here)

Additionally, the Ministry of Information and the Information Services Department, the official public relations outfit of the government, had no information about the District Level Elections.

On the other hand, the Electoral Commission had a countdown to the District Level Elections Day available on the main page of its website. In addition, details regarding the nomination of aspiring candidates from the various MMDAs and the timetable of activities for the elections were accessible on the commission’s website and social media platforms.

Information on the polls was also provided on the websites of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE)(here and here) and the Ministry of Local Government, Decentralization and Local Government.

Visibility by Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies (MMDAs)

Earlier this year, the Media Foundation for West Africa conducted an assessment of the digital platforms of stakeholders, revealing that a majority of stakeholders had not provided information on district-level elections. While some of these stakeholders have since made available the required information, a notable number of Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies (MMDAs) are still yet to provide any information regarding the elections.

Out of the 259 MMDAs sampled, only four had any information on the elections on their websites and social media platforms.

The Central Tongu District Assembly had a publication on a sensitization exercise on the polls by the NCCE in the district available under the news tab on its website. Same as the Ga South Municipal Assembly.

Also, the Atwima Nwabiagya North and South Dayi District Assemblies had messages on the District Level Elections on their Facebook pages.

Aside from these four districts, a total of 255 MMDAs had no information on the District Level Elections on any of their digital platforms. Yet for many citizens, local-level elections grant them the opportunity to elect representatives to the various metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies through whom they can participate in decision-making.

How does this influence apathy for the DLE?

Inadequate visibility and information about the district-level elections translates to low voter turnout. Since its inception, the highest voter turnout that has been recorded during the district-level elections was 59.3% in 1988. Citizens are less likely to participate and show interest in electoral processes if they are sufficiently informed and engaged.

Meanwhile, democracy thrives on the active participation of citizens. Low publicity and visibility for district-level elections undermine democratic principles by limiting citizens’ opportunities to exercise their right to vote and be involved in the decision-making processes that directly affect their communities.

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