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Ghana’s Electorate Flirts With The Change Agenda

As Ghana’s electorate goes to the polls to elect a President for the seventh time in just over two decades the spectre of change which has become an irresistible trend in political contests all over the globe is once again rearing its head. Notwithstanding the fact that the main opponent of the incumbent can hardly be said to be a new face in the nation’s politics, the suggestion that President John Dramani Mahama and his party the National Democratic Congress (NDC) have failed to fix the economy and are therefore vulnerable to the call for a new order to be installed has gained widespread credibility.

His main opponent from the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) is the perennial contestant and former Foreign Minister Nana Akufo-Addo, who has tried twice before and failed. Akufo-Addo whose supporters have been emboldened by the example of Nigeria’s General Buhari’s success in Presidential polls in 2015, after having tried three times before, is a 72 year old aspirant but his campaign touts him as the hope for the younger generation of leadership in the nation.

 

Mahama on the other hand came on board first as a Vice Presidential candidate to the ailing John Attah-Mills in 2009. Attah-Mills died in office in 2012 and Mahama first succeeded him and then commenced his own first term as an elected President in 2013.

This circumstance provoked some of his opponents to question the constitutionality of his seeking a second term in office but this has been adjudged to be motivated by political mischief rather than genuine concern for regulatory propriety.

The much more substantial issue of Mahama’s ability, or inability, to sustain Ghana’s economic growth or to provide steady employment for the national workforce has formed the core argument of the opposition’s appeal to the voters.
There is a certain irony in the campaigns surrounding Ghana’s latest round of elections as the ruling NDC is being portrayed by the main challenger, the NPP, as the party of the establishment. For several years most Ghanaians saw things differently.

The NPP had always been regarded as the more conservative institution and the NDC as the radical alternative. However in recent times the NDC has held power for eight years and been confronted with some of the most challenging economic and administrative problems that the nation has ever faced.

This has led to a situation in which the NPP is able to take advantage of its position as the main opposition party to lay the blame for public disenchantment on the NDC while harking back to its own days in power as having been better for the nation.

In the heat of a public campaign such boasting is both attractive and misleading, especially since the NPP campaigners do not take into consideration the fact that a substantial proportion of the problems faced by Mahama and the NDC were inherited from the NPP government’s tenure in office.

In a recent op-ed piece in the US newsmagazine Newsweek Nana Akufo-Addo actually wrote that the NPP had bequeathed a stable economic legacy to the Attah-Mills Administration, a patently false claim. In fact the NPP’s ouster in 2009 was actually a blessing in disguise for the party as it had begun to grapple with a major global economic downturn and a breakdown of infrastructure and services that had begun to undermine its earlier successes.
It fell to Mahama and the NDC to confront the worst consequences of the NPP’s legacy by the time that he took over from his deceased principal in 2012. He proved to be an adept manager of some of the crises that arose as a result of problems inherited from his predecessors even though they became worse after he won his own election and took office in 2013.

One of the most difficult inheritances that he had to contend with was the breakdown of the national power supply. The suggestion that policies introduced by the NDC Government led to a rise in power outages and a drop in the capacity of the sector has not been confirmed by objective analysts.

They have rather concluded that deficient maintenance and planning and lack of provision of adequate spares for the sector aggravated natural deficiencies caused by changes in the weather as well as technical obsolescence.

They laid the blame for these circumstances squarely on the policies of the NPP when in power. Faced with the consequences of such neglect at a time when prices for Ghana’s major agricultural product cocoa suddenly collapsed on the world markets Mahama was forced to find innovative ways to manage a problem that was bound to exacerbate a deepening economic depression.

 

Although Ghana still faces the problem of power shortages many observers praise the government for reducing its effects by careful and well planned re-distributive programmes through which limited capacity is transmitted on a regular basis.
President John Mahama’s government has exhibited courage in dealing with incidents of official corruption that have been unearthed both within its own ranks and in the ranks of major institutions such as the judiciary. In spite of this the NPP has made allegations of corruption against the NDC establishment an important part of its campaign.

 

However while this is an attractive and effective element of its campaign strategy members of the electorate are well aware that during its tenure in office the NPP was also accused of covering up a number of high profile irregularities among its own members.

The NDC’s response to the tactic of NPP accusations against it has been to allege that the opposition party is using dirty tricks such as distributing fake memoranda purportedly written by NDC insiders, but actually crafted by experts allied to the opposition, to give the impression that the NDC is desperate to hold on to power by any means. Although so far these allegations have not been proved the emergence of the accusations and counter-accusations indicate how vicious the battle between the two main contenders has become.
In the preparatory period before the elections the Electoral Commission decided to eliminate some smaller parties from the race for non-compliance with the regulations for registering their candidates thus reinforcing the perception that this would be a particularly close contest between the two major contenders.

The Supreme Court’s judgment overturning the Commission’s order however threw the contest into further disarray. Many observers now believe that at best the outcome might depend on a run-off, and although there is little or no empirical evidence to support the assumption many of them assert that in that event most of the smaller parties may support the NPP in a backlash against what they perceive as the government’s attempt to disenfranchise their members.

If this occurs the Ghanaian election might well turn out to be one more example of the consequences of a global impulse towards overturning the established rule of governing parties and installing a government that promises change simply for the sake of replacing a perceived status quo.

 

In Ghana’s current circumstances such a change might install an older establishment instead of consolidating the genuine change which the voters sought when they elected Mahama to serve his first full tenure from 2013.

 

By Lindsay Barrett

 

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