Ghana: Peaceful polls but some controversy

Ghana: Peaceful polls but some controversy

by / Comments Off / 181 View / 17th December 2012

Despite staging one of the most peaceful and fair elections in Africa, the losing opposition’s challenge of the results has taken some gloss over the outcome, writes Ben Billis

December 7, 2012 marked yet another turning point in the history of the West African nation that has always become a reference point for becoming the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence, in 1957.

For the sixth time, the country organised another peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections, which saw the incumbent President, John Dramani Mahama, candidate for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) beating his closest rival, Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) by a little over 300,000 votes to retain the seat.

Overall, the incumbent polled 50.7 per cent of the valid votes cast, with the opposition leader polling a little over 47 per cent. The smaller parties could not make much impact, yet again reflecting the polarised nature of the Ghanaian society along party lines.

To win the presidential election, a candidate needed to gain more than 50 per cent of the valid votes cast, otherwise a re-run is ordered by the Electoral Commission, at which point the majority votes rule is applied.

The sixth parliamentary and presidential elections organised since the country returned to multi-party democracy in 1992 after more than a decade of dictatorship-and years of instability- presented a number of challenging situations.

The run up to the elections was as testing as the day of the elections themselves. The incumbent NDC, in July, had lost its leader, who was also the President of the country. That was the first time ever that the country had witnessed the death of a sitting President. The challenge was enormous to both the ruling party and the country as a whole, but the smooth transition once again affirmed the country’s credentials as a beacon of democracy in Africa, a continent that has had a good number civil unrest and political tensions.

Then Vice President John Mahama was affirmed by his party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), the highest decision making body after the Congress, as the new leader and, in line with the country’s constitution, was also sworn in as the President of the country.

Because of his party’s constitutional requirements, Mahama had to wait for the NDC to go to Congress for the decision to appoint him as the leader to be ratified. This cost the NDC a few weeks, leaving it with barely three months of campaigning to challenge the opposition NPP, who, by that time, had gained some grounds with its hard-hitting campaign messages, framed around high corruption within the ruling party. The task, at first looked quite insurmountable for the ruling party.

The stakes were quite high for this year’s elections. The leading opposition party, NPP had felt that the four years of the NDC had taken the country backwards, even though most national and international economic data about the country painted a different picture and indeed investor confidence had soared during that period. The country had recorded single digit inflation for the four years that NDC was in power, with prudent financial controls helping the economic managers to reduce the government’s budget deficit, which had assumed alarming proportions.

The global economic turmoil had had an indirect impact on the country’s economy in the last nine months of 2008, causing serious structural imbalances that had dried up the government’s coffers as far us funds needed to cover critical expenditure, such as the payments of salaries of civil servants were concerned. “The country was broke” was the first public statement made by the NDC when it took over from the NPP after winning the fifth presidential and parliamentary elections organised in December 2008.

Fielding a veteran politician in the person of Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo-Addo, the NPP had very high hopes that given the fact that the incumbent had failed to fulfil its campaign promises made during the previous electioneering campaign and the narrow margin of only 48,000 votes that caused the NPP’s defeat in the 2008 elections, there was no way that the party could lose this year’s elections.

Also, the NPP raised the stakes higher when it promised to deal decisively with corruption, accusing the government of presiding over corrupt practices in high places, especially with the payments of judgement debts to people that the party considered as cronies of government officials with no formal contract, hence should not be compensated in the first place.

That apart, the NPP presidential candidate saw the 2012 elections as, possibly, his last chance to become a President of the country given his age of 68 going into this election. At the age of 72 in 2016 when the country will go to the polls again, many think that he would not be a good candidate for the party, as he would not appeal to young voters.

In an interview with New Africa Analysis (NAA), Stephen Addai, a businessman stressed that whereas the ordinary Ghanaian saw elections as just a game, the politicians had always made it look like a real war, with the kind of language they used during their campaigns for votes causing the electorate to build hatred for one another.

‘Democracy is good, but it should not be at all cost. As Ghanaians, we are very peace loving people and the kind of social cohesion we have means that it would be difficult for anybody to incite people to rise up against each other. Sadly, politicians have always found a way to create a rift to promote their own selfish ambitions. Politics, to many Ghanaians, is a game and when you drive around town and you see members of different political parties in their party colours singing and dancing together it’s all beautiful. The situation only changes after a politician has addressed them. Ordinary citizens, especially the poor ones are incited to fight and cause mayhem when the politicians have secured themselves and their families. This to me is not right,’ Addai stated.

Many Ghanaians share his sentiments. In an exit interview conducted by NAA during the 2012 voting at more than 10 polling stations, most of the electorate expressed satisfaction with the voting process, warning that it was now up to the politicians to accept the results when they lost as the only way that the country can move forward.

Clearly, statements from voters showed that the high stakes attached to the 2012 elections had really caused fear and anxiety over the elections.

However, adopting a biometric system of voting for the first time, the 2012 elections passed as one of the most peaceful elections ever organised in the country. The various observer groups all scored the country very high marks for living up to its image as a beacon of hope in Africa, as far as democracy, economic development and growth are concerned.

A coalition group, the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), stressed after the elections that based on its findings, the elections were free, transparent and fair, even though there were some lapses with the biometric verification processes that had forced some parts of the country to vote the following day.

‘CODEO concludes that the problems and lapses in the voting process on December 7 [2012] which resulted in adjournment did not fundamentally undermine the overall integrity of the conduct of polling, counting, and collation of ballots. In this preliminary statement, in spite of the logistical and technical challenges, CODEO is of the view that the December 7 Presidential and General Elections have been well-conducted,’ it said in a statement.

‘Once again, Ghanaians have been offered the opportunity to elect their leaders in a generally free, fair and peaceful environment. Indeed, CODEO PVT estimates a voter turnout of 78 per cent with a margin of error of +/-0.1 per cent compared to the official turnout rate of approximately 70 per cent in the first round of elections in 2008. Accordingly, CODEO commends Ghanaians for turning out in their numbers to express their political will and affirm their fundamental right to choose their leaders,’ it added.

‘Nearly 80 per cent of the electorate voted, continuing the Ghanaian tradition of widespread public participation in the democratic process. This is the sixth successful presidential and parliamentary election since 1992, and further demonstrates the peoples’ commitment to democracy and the rule of law.’

Despite the fact that the country has managed to organise a very successful election that has won international praise, internally all is not well. The leading opposition party, NPP has cast doubt over the election results, claiming that even though the actual process of voting passed without any major problems, the collation of the results presented a number of challenges.

In a statement signed by Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie General Secretary of the NPP, on December 9, the day the results was announced, the party stated: ‘The Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Dr Afari-Gyan, this evening [December 9] made a declaration on the December 7 presidential election, declaring President John Mahama as the winner with 50.7 per cent of the valid vote.

‘As the New Patriotic Party leadership made it clear to him earlier this evening, in a meeting requested by us and called by the National Peace Council, with the other political parties in attendance, we have serious reservations about the validity of what the Chairman of the Electoral Commission has done in declaring results that, by the evidence, do not reflect the mandate of the required majority of the Ghanaian electorate.’

Consequently, the party has emphatically rejected the results announced by the Electoral Commission for the Presidential results, claiming ‘massive rigging’.

Even though most prominent people, both locally and internally have persuaded the NPP to accept the defeat in good faith, the party is bent on ‘unearthing’ what its claims to be the truth concerning the 2012 elections, for the ‘world to see that it was a stolen verdict’.

Critically, the party’s flag-bearer is not prepared to back down, and when addressing supporters on December 11 promised them that the party would not accept the results released by the Electoral Commission. ‘We are not accepting the result that was declared by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission,’ the flag-bearer told the crowd.

His move has irked many Ghanaians, with a Deputy Minister of Information, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, describing it as ‘worrying’. According to the Minister, the conduct of the NPP is ‘a deliberate account to discredit the outcome of this election’, adding that the party’s attitude ‘amounts to a threat of public peace and order’.

What has also become of grave concern to most Ghanaians is the posturing of former President John Kufuor, who led the NPP to two successful elections in 2000 and 2004. Mostly described as a very moderate politician and an elder statesman by the way he peacefully handed over power to the incumbent in January 2009 when his party lost by only 48,000 votes in the December 2008 elections, Kufuor was looked upon as the man who could persuade his successor to accept the election results.

But he surprised many when he emphatically said that the Electoral Commission should rather be held responsible for any acts of violence and not the politician. According to him, the ‘overwhelming’ evidence pointing to serious rigging means that it is indeed the Commission that is not playing it fair.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission seem completely unperturbed by the posturing of the opposition party, very much in favour of the party seeking redress through the courts but against acts that could disturb public peace. In an interview with the media, Electoral Commission chairman Afari-Gyan dismissed the allegations by the NPP, insisting that there were no major problems with the 2012 general elections. .

The chairman said the constitution made provision for any aggrieved party to go to court if it felt cheated, more or less inviting the NPP to go to court to prove its case.

Most Ghanaians, however, want a quick resolution of the problem before it escalates into something else. In an interview with a local radio station, a lecturer and legal practitioner Godwin Adawine called on the President-elect Mahama to give priority to acts that could unify the country while expressing concern that the elections indicated a divided society and imposed a serious obligation on the winner to instigate the march towards unity.

Whatever the outcome in the end, the dent to the country’s democracy caused by the impasse will have a significant impact on the conduct of the next elections in the country.