Ghana: Another Peaceful Alternation of Power

Ghana: Another Peaceful Alternation of Power

On December 7 2016, Ghana held its seventh national elections since the beginning of the Fourth Republic. [1]   In the run up to the elections two questions stood out prominently. First, will the Electoral Commission (EC) be neutral and fair? Second, will there be violence during and after the elections?  The first question did arise because of the rather controversial circumstances surrounding the outcome of the 2012 elections and the perception that the EC had connived with the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to manipulate election results. Also, the appointment of a new EC Chairperson, Charlotte Kesson-Smith Osei, who was perceived as sympathetic to the ruling government created some anxiety among supporters of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP).

The second question was linked to the potential threat that a possible repeat of tensions that followed the highly contested 2012 elections could portend for national stability. Some seasoned politicians were concerned that the country could descend into chaos. Others also feared that the low level violence recorded during the limited voter registration exercise (late April to early May) could be a dress rehearsal for what would happen during and after the December 2016 elections. To prevent election-related violence, Ghana’s National Peace Council, along with civil society organizations and the media set up an elaborate process for promoting peaceful elections that culminated in the signing of a peace accord by all seven presidential candidates.

Ultimately, the EC performed creditably and elections were largely peaceful, except for an incident in the Jaman North Constituency where voting was postponed to the following day.  However, the EC's delay in releasing certified results until 48 hours after voting was concluded was problematic, as this gave room for speculation and claims of victory by political parties who were tallying their own results based on polling station sheets.

On December 9th, almost 72 hours after the designated voting day, President Mahama conceded defeat in a live telecast to the nation. Shortly after that the EC finally declared Nana Addo-Danquah Akufo Addo, President-elect of the Republic of Ghana with 53.85% (5,716,026) of the valid votes cast, while his closest competitor incumbent President John Dramani Mahama recorded 44.40% (4,713,277) of the total votes cast. The results meant Ghana’s largest opposition party – the New Patriotic Party (NPP) – had won a decisive victory and was back in power after an eight year absence.

Six smaller political parties and an independent candidate (Mr. Jacob Osei Yeboah) did poorly, and collectively earned a meager 1.7% of the votes.  The smaller parties comprised the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP) led by Mr. Ivor Kwabena Greenstreet, a lawyer and wheel-chair bound disability activist; the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) led by Dr. Papa Kwesi Ndoum, a businessman, who was a former minister in the last NPP government (2001-2008) and a presidential candidate for the CPP in 2008.  There was also the Peoples’ National Convention (PNC) led by a gynaecologist, Dr Edward Nasigiri Mahama and the National Democratic Party (NDP) whose presidential candidate was former first lady Mrs. Konadu Agyeman Rawlings. In the 2000 elections smaller political parties together recorded 7.2% of the total votes and forced the election into a run-off. They did less well in 2008, earning 2.9% of the votes, but still forced the presidential elections into a run-off. In the most recent elections however, the NPP won a first round victory with an almost 10 percentile point gap between it and the ruling party.

At the parliamentary level the performance of the smaller parties was equally disappointing. In 2000 the PNC won three seats, the CPP one seat, while four other seats went to independent candidates. Similarly in 2008 the PNC won two seats, CPP one seat and again independent candidates secured four other seats in Parliament. In the 2016 elections, however none of the  smaller parties or independent candidates won a single seat.

The outcome of the elections was not only shocking to supporters of the NDC, which had state resources at its disposal, but to some political pundits who had predicted victory for the incumbent NDC. Like the 2012 elections, that of 2016 one was issue-based with all political parties promising to fight corruption, mechanize agriculture, stabilize the economy and create jobs for unemployed youth. The incumbent NDC’s campaign message was largely focused on infrastructural development at a time when citizens were concerned with more basic problems such as skyrocketing prices of consumer goods, and the lack of money to pay school fees or to settle hospital bills. However, the NPP promised policies on industrialization (one constituency, one industry) and agriculture (one district, one dam). It also promised to create jobs, tackle corruption and restore the country’s ailing economy back to its past glory as happened when it was the party in power.

In spite of the Center for Democratic Development’s (CDD-Ghana) pre-election survey that found both the NDC (51%) and the NPP (32%) liable of vote buying, [2] the decision of the electorate was discerning. Not only did they vote out a government with “incumbency advantage” but there was also ticket-splitting of votes. Commonly known as “skirt and blouse” voting in Ghana, Kwame Boafo-Arthur explains the phenomenon of ticket-splitting as a common demonstration of electorates’ maturity. [3]  In the 2012 elections party tickets were split in 26 constituencies across the country. In the 2016 elections it occurred in 22 constituencies, producing prominent casualties at the parliamentary level, including experienced politicians such as Foreign Minister Hannah Tetteh, Defence Minister Benjamin Kumbour, Deputy Minister for Employment & Labour Relations, Baba Jamal and former parliamentary majority leader Cletus Avoka.

Ultimately, the outcome of Ghana’s 2016 elections should be viewed as a demonstration of democratic maturity by the Ghanaian electorate. Democratic consolidation comes in two forms: the minimal and maximal. According to Samuel Huntington, the minimal consolidation is expressed in what he terms the “two-turn-over” test; a situation where a country is able to democratically alternate power between two political parties in two different elections, but not necessarily in a concurrent manner. [4]  Ghana’s first “turn over” occurred in 2000 when the incumbent NDC lost power to the opposition NPP and the second “turn over” in 2008 when the incumbent NPP lost power to the opposition NDC. The outcome of the 2016 elections is now ahead of Huntington’s “two-turn-over” test theory.  In effect, Ghana has “triple-turn(ed)-over!”

Endnotes

[1] After 11 years of military rule Ghana ushered in its Fourth Republic on January 7, 1993 following multi-party elections in November 1992.

[2] See “Educating the Public on Voting on Policy Issues and Reducing Vote Buying in Election 2016” (Accessed on 29/12/2016 ) at  http://www.cddgh.org/newsarticles/EDUCATING-THE-PUBLIC-ON-VOTING-ON-POLICY-ISSUES-REDUCING-VOTE-BUYING-IN-ELECTION-2016

[3] Boafo-Arthur, K. (2004) “The 2004 General Elections: an overview” in Boafo-Arthur, K. (ed.) Voting for Democracy in Ghana: the 2004 elections in Perspective” (Vol. 1), Accra: Freedom Publications

[4] Huntington, S.P.  (1991) The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century, Norman, University of Oklahoma PressEndnotes

 

About the Author

Seidu Alidu is a Senior Lecturer at the Political Science Department, University of Ghana.

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