March 30, 1978: Union Government Referendum held with low voter turn out

In January 1977, the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC) appointed members to the Koranteng-Addow Ad Hoc Committee charged with collecting public input on the type of civilian government Ghana would return to. The military heavily backed a union government in which the military, civilians and police would serve. In July 1977, after opposition led by a coalition of professionals held repeated strikes and clashed with the military regime, the SMC announced a timetable for Ghana to return to civilian rule. The timetable called for a public referendum to decide what kind of government Ghana would transition to, general elections in June 1979, and the appointments of a Constitutional Commission and Constituent Assembly to draft and approve a new constitution.

In October 1977, the Ad Hoc Committee, after having received 806 memoranda and traveled to each regional capital to gather public input, issued its report recommending the country adopt some form of union government. The Bar Association denounced the Ad Hoc Committee and its report as a sham and others criticized the Committee Chair’s decision to only allowed testimony of a union government. On March 30, 1978, a public referendum was held for Ghanaians to decide whether to endorse transitioning to a union form of government. The SMC announced the results on April 4, in which Ghanaians overwhelmingly supported the SMC-backed union form of government. However, serious allegations of fraud accompanied this referendum and it is estimated that less than 40% of all eligible voters voted. Independently calculated results predicted that, had a larger portion of eligible voters participated, only 46% would support a Union government.

The ad hoc process to draft a new constitution formally began in May 1978, when the SMC appointed a 23-member Constitutional Commission to produce an initial draft that endorsed a union government. The push to promote a union government fell by the wayside shortly after its main proponent and SMC leader, General Acheampong, was ousted in a palace coup in July 5, 1978. Following the coup, the new leadership reconstituted the Constitutional Committee with 58 members (though only 52 participated in the subsequent deliberations). Two groups, the Bar Association and the Association of University Teachers, were offered places on the Constitutional Committee but refused to participate. The committee allowed limited public comment during its deliberations. In November 1978, the committee submitted its completed proposal to the SMC.

The Constituent Assembly convened in January 1979, charged with approving the final draft constitution, which would then be submitted to the SMC for final approval. The assembly contained 64 members indirectly elected by district councils, 29 nominated by the SMC, and 27 nominated by corporate bodies. The assembly made 350 amendments to the initial draft and proceeded to vote on each provision for final approval. The assembly completed its work on April 28. The final submitted draft included a provision indemnifying all members of the SMC.