Monday, April 20, 2009

Ghana: General election a lesson in democracy

Jean Mensa

On December 7, 2008, Ghana's Democracy was for the fifth successive time, put to the test. Eight million, two hundred thousand people went to the polls to elect a President and two hundred and thirty Parliamentarians to decide the political fate of Ghana for the next four years.


The stakes for this year's elections were high for a number of reasons. Firstly, the two largest Parties in Ghana, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) having served two terms each, sought to break the deadlock to determine who the most dominant force was. Secondly, this was the third successive-and most likely the last time- that Professor John Atta Mills, the Flagbearer of the National Democratic Congress was contesting the Presidential Elections. This election was therefore a make-or-break for him. Again, one of the smaller Parties, the Convention People's Party (CPP) seemed to have suddenly woken up from its long slumber with the selection of Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom as its Flagbearer. The Party was therefore tipped to cause a major upset this year. Furthermore, this was also the first time in the Fourth Republic where neither a President nor his Vice was seeking re-election. Finally, for the first time, there were as many as eight Candidates contesting the Presidential Election –

Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo-New Patriotic Party,
Dr. Edward Nasigrie Mahama –Peoples' National Convention
Prof. John Evans Atta Mills –National Democratic Congress
Mr. Emmanuel Asante Antwi- Democratic Freedom Party
Mr. T. N. Ward -Brew Democratic Peoples' Party
Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom-Convention Peoples'Party
Mr. Kwabena Adjei-Reformed Patriotic Democrats
Mr. Kwesi Amoafo-Yeboah -Independent Candidate



The campaign period was an exciting one. The four Parties with representation in Parliament did all in their power to woo voters. There were songs, catch phrases like "we are moving forward (NPP), "Ye re Sesamu" literally meaning we are changing things (CPP), "Change you can trust (NDC), and "real change, real hope (PNC)"; dances, radio and television adverts and above all, well -prepared and thought -out Manifestoes to display.

The NPP campaign was by far the most attractive and the most media-intensive. The NDC on the other hand initially embarked on a modest house –to- house campaign, which was later augmented by a media-savvy campaign. Perhaps, the most impressive (considering their showing in the last twelve years) was the CPP whose slick media campaign and solid showing of their Presidential Candidate in 'The IEA Debates' (the Institute for Economic Affairs, the facilitator of the NIMD political party programme) gave hope of their emergence as a third force in Ghanaian politics. Their massive registration drive of the youth and grassroots approach made them attractive to many. The other five Parties did not embark on any visible campaign save rare PNC adverts and radio interviews mercifully granted to their representatives and the Presidential Aspirants.

The last day of campaigning saw the NPP and NDC holding mammoth rallies in Accra and Tema respectively. Apart from giving the Candidates a final chance to appeal to voters, the rallies were a show of political force. The NPP rally was covered live by all the television stations whilst the NDC rally was telecast after the event. They both generated huge support making it an impossible task to judge who had the bigger crowd.


Although voting was scheduled to commence at 7:00am, enthusiastic voters had formed queues at polling stations as early as 4:00am. Most poling stations recorded long queues throughout the day. This was a departure from the norm where polling stations are usually quiet between 12 noon and 3pm. In spite of the long queues, it turned out that 69% of voters turned up to vote. One reason attributed to the relatively low voter turn out was voter indifference. With the two main Parties having served two terms each without significantly improving the lot of the average Ghanaian, most voters felt it was worth their while to go and vote. Another reason that could be attributed is the allegation that the voter's register was bloated. If that assertion is true, then one could argue that the 31% of people who did not cast their votes were either minors, people who had registered more than once or ghost names. A less probable reason was that the sometimes confrontational language used by the two leading Parties scared some doves.

Another interesting trend was the number of rejected ballots which represented 2.4% of the total votes cast. This percentage is bigger than the combined percentage of votes cast for the CPP and PNC during the elections. A lack of voter education has been identified as a possible cause. Again, for the first time in Ghana's election, the index finger was dipped in indelible ink rather than marking the thumb which had been the norm in the four previous general elections. Most people, especially the unlettered, therefore voted with their index finger- rendering the votes invalid.



Several polls had been carried prior to the elections. The polls produced varied results with regards to the percentage of total votes each candidate was to receive. All of them, except that of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), put the NPP ahead of all the other Parties. One thing that was certain about all the polls was that no Party was going to win the elections in the first round.

The NPP was very confident of a first round victory and was disappointed when the total number of votes fell short of the more than 50% (at least 50% + 1) vote required for a first round victory. The NPP obtained 49.1% of the valid votes cast. While some had attributed this to complacency on the part of the NPP, voter apathy and the improper settling of disputes arising from the Party's primaries may have accounted for their inability to win a first round victory. Professor Mills of the NDC was also confident of a first round victory. He however managed to make 47.96% an improvement on the 44.63% he had obtained in 2004.

Declaration of Results

Ghanaians sat on tenterhooks until the Electoral Commission announced the results 69 hours after the polls closed. After an official announcement of a run-off, the two Parties are each psyching themselves and their supporters up for the second round of voting. They have both embarked on subtle and rigorous attempts to court the minority Parties. It is difficult to predict whose side the small Parties will go for, even though there are many personal and political interconnections between the Parties. For example, Dr. Nduom of the CPP was a long-time Cabinet Minister of the NPP and also worked with the NDC. The running mate of the NPP is also married to the daughter of the National Chairman of the PNC whilst they both supported the NPP in the 2001 Presidential run-off.

Parliamentary Results

The 2008 Parliamentary elections can be termed "the fall of the mighty". Many popular and long serving Parliamentarians of the four Parties with representation in Parliament have fallen victims to the massive wind of change that swept through the parliamentary elections. The NPP suffered the most casualties as their number of Parliamentarians dropped form 126 in 2006 to 107. The NDC on the other hand have made some gains as it increased its number of seats from 96 to 114. The CPP's promising campaign did not yield any gains for the Party with regards to Parliamentary seats. Their seats in Parliament were reduced from 3 to 1. A school of thought suggests that Ms. Samia Nkrumah, the CPP Candidate for the Jomoro Constituency won the seat because her father, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana and indeed a forerunner in the fight for Ghana's independence hails from the area. Therefore, the indigenes felt they owed it a duty to her father to throw their weight behind her. The PNC, who did not do much in terms of campaigning, lost two of its four seats they had won in 2004.

Among the casualties were Hon. Steven Asamoah Boateng, NPP MP for Mfansteman West constituency and Information Minister and Hon. Hajia Alima Mahama, NPP MP for Nalerigu-Gambaga constituency and the Minister for Women and Children Affairs. Interestingly, Hajia Alima Mahama was one of the few people who had made the short list for the running mate position of the NPP. Within the NDC, Hon. Mahama Ayariga, spokesperson for the NDC Flagbearer and Hon. Ben Kunbuor, NDC MP for Lawra-Nandom were among the few who lost their seats. While the loss of some of these Parliamentarians could be attributed to the desire for change, voters also punished some for their failings. The lesson is for incumbents to be less complacent in the future and listen to their constituents and undertake relevant projects.

Women's Representation

The hope that many more women would be elected to Parliament in 2008 after Ghana signed onto several national and international conventions such as CEDAW and Beijing Platform was shattered when fewer women got elected than in the previous year. In the 1996 parliamentary elections, out of 59 women who contested, 18 (30%) were elected, constituting 9% of 200 MPs, in 2000, the number of female Candidates increased to 101 but the number elected was 19 (18.8%), constituting 9.5% of 200 MPs. In 2004, the number of women that contested was 104, including 14 sitting MPs, out of which 25 (24%) were elected constituting 10.9% of 230 MPs. The number in 2008 has been reduced to 15 constituting only 6.5% of the House.

The Political Parties as well as the Ghanaian society is equally to blame for paying lip service to the empowerment of women in Ghana. Even though the IEA organized Training Workshops for the Female Aspirants and drafted a Women's Manual which advocated the fielding of female Candidates in the Parties' strongholds, the Manual was not adopted till after the Party primaries which saw a good number of women losing their seats.

Prior to the elections, there had been speculations about the possibility of violence erupting during the elections. These speculations were triggered by violent incidents that were recorded during the limited registration exercise across the country and other incidents that had been recorded during the selection of Parliamentary Candidates within the Parties. Again, the post- election violence in Kenya and Zimbabwe put Ghana on the spotlight as many across the world wondered if Ghana's election would be lead to similar reactions as witnessed in Kenya and Zimbabwe. As a precautionary measure, several initiatives such as Peace Walks, Peace Songs and the broadcast of Peace Messages from distinguished citizens were organised to preach the message of peace across the length and breadth of Ghana.


Possibility of Violence

While it is the prayer of most Ghanaians that harmony would prevail, it is a little too soon to start celebrating. Polling day in Kenya was quiet. It was the refusal of either of the big Parties to accept defeat that sparked the violence. The closeness of the results is likely to make both Parties scramble feverishly for every vote to win the second round. This is where the trouble may occur. So far however, the peace has been maintained. It is the hope of The IEA that its numerous interventions at ensuring peaceful free and fair elections would suffice to keep the peace before, during and after the second round presidential Election on December 28th, 2008.

Again, during the first half of the year The IEA under the Ghana Political Parties Programme organised a workshop on the theme 'Towards a Peaceful and Violence Free Election 2008'. At the end of this workshop the Leaders of the Political parties signed a Communiqué pledging to abide by the Political Parties Code of Conduct. Among other things, the Leader's pledged not to on behalf of their respective Political Parties announce, declare or call the Election in their favour. They agreed that this was the duty of the Electoral Commission and no one had the authority to do so. This communiqué was widely circulated throughout the country and was discussed extensively by Media houses for well over a week.

The IEA Interventions

Another was the IEA sponsored Political Parties Code of Conduct which was reviewed in the first quarter of the year. The document and the communiqué that was signed by all the Political Parties were again widely circulated throughout the country. This put the document in the public domain. The general public and the Regional Enforcement Bodies that were set up after the publication of the Code have monitored the political Parties closely to ensure strict adherence to the Code. For the most part of the year, the Parties did their best to adhere to the Code of Conduct. All the reports from the regions reported no major breeches to the code. This monotony was however broken when serious breeches of the code were reported in Gushegu in Northern Ghana during the limited registration exercise held nationwide. This was quickly reported by the Regional Enforcement Body in Tamale and a press statement condemning all the Parties involved was issued. No major incidents were recorded afterwards.

The IEA 2008 Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates further contributed to restoring calm to the country. For the first time in Ghana's Political history, all Candidates of the four Political Parties with representation in Parliament participated. Held at a time when the political temperature had begun to steadily rise again, the Debates which were very civil in themselves carried on a calm atmosphere throughout the entire country. Perhaps, the most significant of all the Debates was the second Presidential Debate held in Tamale. Due to several violent clashes that had been recorded in the Northern Part of the country, during the year there was a lot of hesitation about hosting the debate in Tamale. However, the people of Tamale were poised to prove a point to Ghanaians. They were bent on ensuring that they were equally capable to hosting and indeed being part of an event that would contribute to the development of democracy in Ghana. More importantly, the people of Tamale proved to the rest of Ghana that politics could be used as a tool to unify people. Among the highlights of the Debate was during the final round when all the Candidates held hands and openly pledge to maintain the peace before, during and after the Election. This symbolic gesture has been captured and used by the state owned media which has nationwide coverage as an advertisement to promote peace.

The NCCE has also put up large billboards depicting the Presidential Candidates holding hands during the Tamale Presidential Debate. Indeed the Political parties involved particularly the ruling party as well as the largest opposition party have used captions from the Debate for their own advertisements. This display of friendship and camaraderie ensured and promoted peace before, during and after the Election. Indeed the British Broadcasting Corporation also in a documentary on Ghana, showed the Presidential Candidates at the Tamale Debate holding hands and pledging to maintain peace in the country. The British Broadcasting Corporation summed it up by saying that it was not in many countries around the world that this happens. Another was a letter from the regent of the Dagbon (the most powerful traditional ruler in Tamale) congratulating the IEA for doing the North proud by bringing the Presidential Debate there. The National Security Apparatus was at its best as it assisted in maintaining law and order during the Debates.

Trend analysis & interparty initiatives

The Institute is currently transcribing all the tapes of the Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates to document the promises made by the Candidates and put it out in the public domain so that the people of Ghana can hold the politicians accountable to their promises.

The IEA Governance Unit is also engaged in serious trend analysis of the Election results and will make its findings available in due course.

Finally, the various peace initiatives and inter-party collaborations of The Institute will continue in all their diversity to ensure that multi-partyism is the true winner of Ghana's Election 2008.

The IEA political programme has been implemented with the full support and cooperation of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD).


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