December 3, 2016

Ghana presidential race too close to call

Ghana presidential race too close to call

Akufo-Addo and Mahama

President Mahama, running for a second term this Wednesday, is set to slug it out with his old opponent, opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo. The outcome as to whether Mahama will remain in Ghana’s Flagstaff House, or be replaced by a new occupant, is eagerly awaited, writes Ben Asante.

Ghana’s presidential and legislative elections will hold on Wednesday, December 7, 2016. This is a contest in which the two leading gladiators, incumbent President John Mahama of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), the party of John Jerry Rawlings, and the long standing opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) party stalwart, Nana Akufo Addo, slugging it out for the second time in four years.

Akufo-Addo and Mahama

Akufo-Addo and Mahama

The last time the two engaged in this contest, it ended up literally in a third round run-off, with the slimmest of winning margins in favor of Mahama. It took the nation’s Supreme Court eight long months to settle the matter and even at that, it was a split 5 to 4 verdict in confirming Mahama as president.

The campaign season for this election has not been without the country’s known colorful rallies, spiced with music and dancing but unfortunately also with degrees of much mudslinging and frequent dishing out of allegations of corruption and counter accusations.

The ghost of corruption would appear never buried since the first coup in the country decades ago. The issues are being talked about loud alright on the campaign trails with the opposition NPP promising jobs and improving the economy. President Mahama’s ruling NDC has pledged to expand on its infrastructure development projects. Elsewhere someone has said that elections within African countries are undeclared wars without weapons. This may not be exactly so in the case of Ghana but the truth is there is too much at stake here as is the case in most African elections, particularly for the political elites.

Civil wars, as occurred in Liberia and Sierra Leon, have been as a result of elections having gone wrong; and this has persuaded ECOWAS to put in place the Protocol on Good Governance and Free and Fair electoral contest and at the same time its insistence on peaceful constitutional change of government within the region.

Ghana, having conducted six previous democratic elections and now about to stage the seventh presidential election, is considered a trailblazer with a large degree of democratic stabilization in the subregion.

Despite this enviable record of democratic culture in the country there is palpable fear about this year’s election, especially the presidential race, given the conflicting perceptions in the camps of the two main leading parties, the NDC and NPP.

For one, Nana Akuffo-Addo, now approaching 73years, is considered by many to be making his last throw at the presidential race. A former attorney general and former foreign minister, he was twice unsuccessful as the NPP Presidential candidate. This is his third attempt and he is passionately asking the Ghanaian electorate to give him the chance to serve. On his unreported quiet visit to Abuja last year following President Buhari’s election victory, Nana Akufo Addo assured his hosts that he would repeat the same feat as Buhari in this December election in his country. Akufo-Addo’s motivation running against President Mahama and his NDC’s determination to retain power only indicate that the stakes are high for both leading parties in this year’s race.

One may be wrong but there is a degree of “do and die” attitude on all sides in this election. Seven political parties are in the presidential race. This is a case of 6 plus 1 contenders. Besides the two main parties, there is the National Democratic Party (NDP) of the former President’s wife Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings and the Convention Peoples Party. Others are the Progressive Peoples Party (PPP) party of former minister and long campaigner Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom; and the new intrant in the political fray, the independent candidate, Jacob Osei Yeboah.

Some 275 parliamentary seats are being contested, besides the seven candidates vying for president. Yet, many consider the race as being mainly between President Mahama’s ruling NDC and its long time political foe, the NPP.

A number of new factors have emerged in this year’s election.

First, the well-known Election Commission chair, Afari Djan, credited with previous acclaimed conduct of Ghana’s election, has left the scene and a new Chairman, Madam Charlotte Osei, is currently in-charge. One of her first actions was the controversial attempt to prune the number of parties presenting candidates for president. The disqualification of three smaller parties including that of Nana Konadu had been based on technicalities.

The Supreme Court promptly restored the rights of these parties to stand for the presidency. Many suspect that the attempt by the new EC Commissioner may have been a clever way to narrow down the field for the two main parties and the others for a clear winner to emerge this year in the first round of voting. With the present crowded field, many suspect that the presidential race may likely go into a run-off.

Conventionally, the electorate in Ghana have given each ruling party a second chance returning the party in power for a second term of four years making it a combined eight years. The electorate is yet to dismiss any one party after its first term in government. Because President Mahama had completed the last year of the late President Attah Mills following the latter’s demise before being elected for his own first four-year term, the opposition had tried hard to  sell the message that Mahama being part of the Mills-Mahama ticket, has completed altogether eight years in office and needs to be changed.

Against this argument President Mahama continues to insist that he deserves a second term on his own right.

It remains to be seen if the ruling NDC party’s argument asking for a second term for Mahama on the basis of the government having done well in the rural areas will carry the day as much as the electorate acceptance of the fact that he is entitled to a second term, or whether the electorate will heed the campaign message of the opposition NPP candidate that the country needs a change of leadership.

Many observers believe the ruling party of President Mahama and Nana AkufoAddo are evenly matched. Indications in this year’s election show the NDC and the main opposition NPP have tried very hard to make inroads into each other’s strongholds in the Ashanti region and in the Volta region, respectively, leaving them fighting for votes in swing regions. The opinion is that President Mahama’s ruling NDC Party may win with a slim margin in the first round and failing that, the ruling NDC will most likely face a stiff contest in the possible run-off with the other parties ganging up with the Nana Akufo Addo against it.

Meanwhile peaceful elections in Ghana remain crucial for the ECOWAS region. Few days to the election, the international community led by the Commonwealth under its representative, former President  of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, the Ghana Peace Council and representative of the UN, ECOWAS and other partners, held a crucial meeting with all seven presidential candidates and watched by ECOWAS chairman, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, at which the candidates signed a peace pact pledging a peaceful electoral process free of violence.

Ghanaians are going to the poll to decide. While the electorate within Ghana waits for the outcome, the rest of the region equally wait to see if Ghana will maintain its leading place in building democracy in the region.