The 2012 Ghanaian Election: Implications for the Consolidation of Democracy
Ghana is celebrated as a model of democracy in Africa because of the relatively peaceful, free, and fair elections it has held since 1992. The country’s 2012 election validates this reputation. Though proceeding roughly at times due to malfunctioning biometric verification machines (a new technology adopted by Ghana to enhance voter identification and the transparency of the polls), the election was conducted peacefully and successfully. The winner, John Mahama, the incumbent president and candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, was sworn into office on January 7, 2013. The sixth Parliament of the Fourth Republic has also been sworn in and is conducting its legislative duties. With the 2012 election, the democratic Ghanaian political system seems to have been further consolidated, and Ghanaians have again demonstrated political maturity by adhering to the democratic values of tolerance and compromise and settling their political disputes peacefully through legitimate or statutory institutions, mechanisms, and processes.
This short piece muses about the implications of the 2012 election for the consolidation of democracy in Ghana. I focus on an issue related to the Ghanaian party system and the consolidation of democracy: the transition of the NDC from a personalistic party under the stranglehold of former president Jerry John Rawlings to a formal, autonomous party, bringing greater stability to the two-party system in Ghana.
The claim that the 2012 election was peaceful, free, and fair is controversial and needs clarification for two intertwined reasons. First, the political atmosphere in the immediate post-election period (the first week) seemed explosive. Tension mounted as the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) rejected the presidential results, alleging the election was systematically rigged by the governing and victorious NDC party with the complicity of the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana. Not only did the NPP, led by its presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, refuse to concede defeat; it petitioned the Supreme Court of Ghana to nullify the results. Second, this allegation and the tension it spawned sparked incidents of violence in various parts of the country, including attacks targeting some journalists and media houses. While supporters of the NPP were said to be the main perpetrators, reprisal attacks on NPP supporters by NDC supporters were also reported.
All these are serious matters that cannot be ignored in any proper analysis of the 2012 Ghanaian election. Indeed, they call into question the international claim that Ghana is a pacesetter for peaceful, free, and fair elections in Africa. These problems should not, however, be seen as entirely refuting that claim. For one thing, they were not peculiar to the 2012 election but common to the previous five, two of which, in 2000 and 2004, were won by the NPP. Indeed, Paul Nugent, a renowned authority on Ghanaian elections who personally observed both the 2008 and 2012 elections, believes the latter was an improvement on former. “If we compare the 2012 polls with those of 2008,” he writes, “we could conclude that there were more ‘technical’ problems, but almost certainly less manipulation of the figures… When it comes to manipulation: I believe there were serious anomalies in 2008—to some extent in the Volta region, but especially in Ashanti.”1
The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO)—a credible, nonpartisan, and local civil society organization that monitors elections in Ghana—has also confirmed that the election results were valid in 2012. Justice V. C. R. A. C. Crabbe, co-chairperson of CODEO, announced that the figures compiled by the organization’s Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) system, which independently verifies the accuracy of the official results of the Electoral Commission (EC), are consistent with those of the EC. According to the former justice of the Supreme Court, “This gives CODEO the confidence that the results of the 2012 presidential polls declared by the EC are generally an accurate reflection of how Ghanaians voted in the polls.”2 All flaws considered—and we should bear in mind that nothing like flawless elections take place anywhere in the world—the 2012 Ghanaian election was relatively peaceful, free, and fair.
The New NDC and Consolidation of the Two-Party System
In the 2012 election the NDC won the presidency and the majority in parliament without relying on the political capital of former military strongman and ex-president Rawlings, hitherto considered indispensable for the party’s victory in the polls. These successes marked a turning point in the short history of the party (1992–2012). Through this “independent” victory, the NDC gained its freedom from Rawlings. It made a big and bold leap from a “personalistic” party,3 founded on the legacy of Rawlings and under his stranglehold, to a “real” party, with formal organizational structures that can work autonomously to win elections. A new NDC has, therefore, been born.
This is not the place to discuss theories of political parties and party systems. It is enough to state that Ghana, like the United States, has a two-party system, comprising the dominant NPP and NDC. These parties alone have the organizational capacity to present candidates for elections to the highest political offices in the country and to win them. The several other parties officially registered with the EC of Ghana lack this and exist only in the files of the EC and their own symbols.
Before the NDC made the critical transition from a “personalistic” to a “real” party in 2012, however, the Ghanaian two-party system was on shaky ground because, unlike the NPP, the NDC was badly afflicted by internal factionalism which threatened its very existence.4 Although factionalism is normal in intraparty politics, in the NDC it was destructive because of the party’s personalistic foundation on the heritage of President Rawlings, who sought to control it for selfish political reasons. Such behavior was symptomatic of the “personal rule” thesis on African politics,5 and leading members of the party were afraid to challenge the “party strongman.” The few who mustered the courage to do so were quickly suppressed by the powerful pro-Rawlings faction, and, having no other choice, left to form their own parties.6
Some are of the view that Rawlings and his wife, Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings, saw themselves as the lifeblood of the NDC. There are many reasons for this, but an important one is that the NDC is an offspring and founded on the principles of the two coups and resulting governments that Rawlings led: the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which was the government of the June 4, 1979, coup, and the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), the government of the December 31, 1981, coup. Obed Asamoah was one of the leading members of the NDC who was courageous enough to challenge Rawlings’s control of the party. “I believe that the NDC should be run through the structures established by its constitution,” he declared, “but Mr. Rawlings wants the party to be run from his house. He calls all sorts of meetings to take decisions which are not right.”7
The most turbulent period of the NDC was the four years after its return to power in the 2008 election. The humility and loyalty of the late John Atta Mills as vice president to Rawlings might have deceived Rawlings into thinking Mills would remain subservient to him when the latter assumed office as president. This didn’t happen. Contrary to the belief of the opposition parties that Rawlings would be the puppet master exercising power over Mills from behind the scenes, Mills took charge of his government.
Suddenly, the man whom Rawlings had trusted as his vice president and anointed as his successor became his bitter enemy. Rawlings was the fiercest critic of Mills and his government. He seized upon every opportunity to criticize it in the media, accusing the president of being incompetent, corrupt, and out of touch with the grassroots of the party, and reportedly predicted that the NDC would lose the 2012 election based on the poor performance of Mills’s government.
The persistent attacks on Atta Mills by Rawlings and his wife, Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings, paved the way for other disgruntled members of the party also to attack him and emboldened them to do it. Before he could serve the first full year of his four-year term, Mills, as one media commentator correctly observed, was “under siege” from his own party.8 Until his death, he was criticized more severely by Rawlings than by his political opponent, Nana Akuffo-Addo, the presidential candidate of the NPP. With their work done for them by Rawlings and his supporters, the opposition could literally “take a vacation.”9
Rawlings appeared keen to retake power over the NDC before the 2012 election. First, Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings challenged the incumbent president for the party’s presidential candidacy, the first woman in the history of the party, if not the country. She suffered a humiliating defeat in the primary elections. Second, and less than six months before the 2012 national election, members of the Rawlings faction of the NDC, “Friends of Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings” (FONKAR), broke away to form a new party, the National Democratic Party (NDP). Mrs. Rawlings resigned from the NDC to accept her unopposed nomination as the NDP’s presidential candidate for the 2012 election. But the new party was not even organized enough to file her nomination papers correctly, and she was disqualified by the EC from running. Last, the former president Rawlings, “the [NDC’s] most effective campaigner,”10 did not campaign for the party in the 2012 election. Asked by journalists on the eve of the election whom he was going to vote for, he would not tell, despite his late endorsement of John Mahama.11 And although his wife stopped short of joining the opposition NPP or endorsing its presidential candidate, her actions all pointed to a yearning for it to win. Rawlings was more ambivalent, but this had more to do with political gamesmanship: his aim was to remain influential whether the NDC won or lost. A loss would have created the best opportunity for him.
Despite all these formidable challenges, the NDC won the 2012 election without recourse to the political capital of Rawlings and his wife. By this victory, it successfully passed through the birth pangs of becoming a formal political party. The new NDC consolidated the two-party system that had emerged in Ghana since the transition to electoral democracy in 1992. Now firmly in place are two dominant parties representing the left–right ideological divide that exists at least in rhetoric. The NDC represents the center left, while the NPP represents the center right. In terms of policy framework, the line separating them is blurred because, when in power, governments of both parties depend on international development aid, a greater part of which (for example, concessionary loans) is tied to the implementation of free market policies. Both are, therefore, adherents of the neoliberal ideology.
The transition of the NDC from a personalistic party built around former president Rawlings to a real autonomous party has been successful, and a new NDC has been born. The two-party system is well established in Ghana, with the NDC representing a center-left or social democratic party and the NPP representing a center-right or liberal party. Their counterparts in the Western countries can support them with capacity-building programs and other acts of solidarity, as both parties have embraced a liberal ideology. Having weeded out factional, clientelist, weak parties from the system and brought and strengthened political stability in Ghana, the prevailing democratic electoral system should be maintained.
However, the contradiction between political democracy and economic poverty and inequality in Ghana must be addressed immediately. As I have argued elsewhere, with this contradiction lurking in the background, the “glorified democratic image of Ghana serves to mask potential ‘powder kegs’ in the country.”12 The danger of these “powder kegs” exploding and turning Ghana into a Kenya, a Zimbabwe, or a Cote d’Ivoire is ever present; indeed, some observers think the country teetered on the brink of such a crisis in the 2008 election.[13.See J. Ayelazuno, “The 2008 Ghanaian Elections: A Model That Unraveled?” African Renaissance 6, no. 1 (2009): 12–24; H. Jockers, D. Kohnert, and P. Nugent, “The Successful Ghana Election of 2008: A Convenient Myth?” Journal of Modern African Studies 48, no. 1 (2010): 95–115; and A. Abdulai and G. Crawford, “Consolidating Democracy in Ghana: Progress and Prospects?” Democratization 17, no. 1 (February 2010): 26–67.] Poverty and inequality do not necessarily lead to civil war, but there are no guarantees it will not. Ghana should, therefore, work toward moving from liberal democracy, with a narrow focus on political equality and procedures, to social democracy, a model that emphasizes both political and “concrete economic rights.”13 Democracy does not have to be built and deepened in Ghana and Africa solely on the basis of liberalism. The deepening of democracy requires more than a four-year ritual of queuing and voting for one political party or the other. It must be backed up by concrete improvement in the socioeconomic well-being of the voters, especially Ghana’s lower classes.
- P. Nugent, “Ghana: Post-Elections,” transcript, Chatham House (2012), 3–4, http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Research/Africa/191212summary.pdf (accessed January 16, 2013). ↩
- Graphic Online, “Our Results Consistent with EC’s—CODEO” (December, 11 2012), http://graphic.com.gh/General-News/our-results-consistent-with-ecs-codeo.html (accessed January 16, 2013). ↩
- R. Gunther and L. Diamond, “Species of Political Parties: A New Typology,” Party Politics 9, no. 2 (2003): 187. ↩
- G. M. Bob-Milliar, “Party Factions and Power Blocs in Ghana: A Case Study of Power Politics in the National Democratic Congress,” Journal of Modern African Studies 50, no. 4 (2012): 573–601. ↩
- R. H. Jackson and C. G. Rosberg, Personal Rule in Black Africa: Prince, Autocrat, Prophet, Tyrant (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 18–19. ↩
- Bob-Milliar, “Party Factions and Power Blocs.” ↩
- Obed Asamoah, quoted in ibid. 589. ↩
- A. K. Dadzie, “A President Under Siege?” Myjoyonline (December, 3 2009), http://opinion.myjoyonline.com/tgopinion/print/index.php?url=http://opinion.myjoyonline.com/pages/feature/200912/38792.php&contentid=38792 (accessed January 16, 2013). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, cited in Bob-Milliar, “Party Factions and Power Blocs,” 591. ↩
- Myjoyonline.com, “Rawlings Evasive on Who He Will Vote For” (December 4, 2012), http://politics.myjoyonline.com/pages/news/201212/98272.php (accessed on January 16, 2013). ↩
- . Ayelazuno, “Democracy and Conflict Management in Africa: Is Ghana a Model or a Paradox?” African Journal of International Affairs 10, nos. 1 and 2 (2007): 13. ↩
- C. Ake, “The Unique Case of African Democracy,” International Affairs 69, no. 2 (1993): 239–44. ↩