Ghana, West Africa’s Darling of Democracy Heads to the Polls

Ghana, the poster child for democracy in West Africa, will be voting on December 7th 2016 to elect its future leaders. As the race to the presidential elections draw closer, the word on the street is that the race is expected to be a straight contest between the National Democratic Congress (NDC), their campaign being run on the mantra of “transforming lives”, and the National Patriotic Party (NPP) on a “change agenda”. Nevertheless, the debate still continues as to whether the ‘Nkrumahist’ forces, including the Progressive People’s Party (PPP),can emerge as a third option for voters. The last election held in 2012 featured the same presidential candidates President John Mahama and opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo who represented the two major political parties NDC and NPP respectively.

There are around 25 political parties contesting in the general elections, however only seven candidates are in the race for the Presidency (six representing political parties and one as an independent). The Ghana Electoral Commission (EC) had previously disqualified 12 presidential nominees from contesting in the presidential elections on the basis of issues including errors on forms, forgery, incomplete forms, falsified signatures of nominees and invalid endorsements, etc.

Judicialisation of Politics

In the lead-up to the presidential elections, a positive development has been the judicialisation of some elements of the electoral process. An example of this was the case brought before the Supreme Court against the EC concerning the use of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) card as a form of identification for voter registration. The plaintiff (Abu Ramadan & Evans Nimako), having earlier obtained a perpetual injunction in 2014 restraining the EC from using NHIS cards as an identity card for voter registrations, again approached the Supreme Court for an order requesting the EC expunge from the voters’ register, the names of all persons who registered for the 2012 elections using their NHIS cards as proof of identity. In delivering its judgement, the Supreme Court ordered the deletion of the names of all those who registered with the NHIS cards and further ruled that the EC remove the names of all other ineligible persons including the names of deceased persons. However, they refrained from rendering the voters’ register invalid.

Special Voting Procedure

The special vote, a procedure envied by many in the region, is generating additional tension between the EC and the political parties. The special vote enables registered voters, who are unable to vote at their polling units on Election Day to vote on a designated day ahead of the elections. An initial 65,000 persons were confirmed on the list of special voters. The list was later updated to 114,813 persons, and now the current figure sits at 127,394. There are allegations that newly recruited police officials were introduced into the list, breaching the 42 days gap prescribed by the law. This has led some political parties to argue that the EC is not conforming to its own rules and regulations as stated in the Ghana constitution of 1992.

The NPP sued the EC, requesting that the results of the special voting (scheduled to take place on December 1st 2016) be announced at the closure of the polls. However, the Supreme Court dismissed the law suit. Despite the series of challenges the EC have been faced with, it is commendable to see that matters continue to be settled by the Supreme Court.

The High Stakes

Against the backdrop of accusations and counter accusations of procedural abuse, the lack of trust in the EC and its leadership by some political parties is a worrisome development. Additionally, the EC have been accused of favoring a particular political party. If the EC are to remain credible, they must prioritize regaining the trust of both the political parties and citizens.

The campaign trail has had its share of excitement. As expected, President Mahama has taken full advantage of his position as the incumbent to unveil new infrastructure projects across the country, but also monopolizing the media with his campaign adverts and most billboards around the country. This has been complemented by the “Rock Da Vote” concerts hosted by Ovation International magazine.

The Ghana elections have also been replete with political violence in various parts of the country. The phenomenon of henchmen has creeped into the polity, namely vigilantes loyal to the major political parties. Prominent amongst these groups are the NDC’s “Azorka Boys” and the NPP’s “Bolga Bull Dogs” and “Invincible Forces”. However, the NDC continues to deny any affiliation with this group, while the NPP argue that the lack of equity on the part of security forces has made the formation of vigilante groups loyal to their cause inevitable.

The stakes in the elections are so high that in an attempt to woo voters, the two leading political parties NPP and NDC have been promising ‘Eldorado’. For instance, the NPP have promised to build a factory in each district of the country. In an attempt to counter this promise, the NDC have promised to pay members of the 216 Assemblies in Ghana salaries as against the existing practice of sitting allowance. As candidates travel around the country making promises, citizen groups are making note of these pledges.

IMANI Centre for Policy and Education, a think tank based in Accra, is already running extensive analysis on the party manifestos and how they align with citizens’ expectations. It is anticipated that a promise-tracking mechanism like Nigeria’s Buharimeter, developed to monitor the implementation of campaign promises of the ruling party, will follow.

Against the backdrop of the problems many Ghanaian citizens face such as unemployment, corruption, incessant power outages or lack of electricity, dual tax burden on the working class, debt portfolio and poor infrastructure, do any of the political parties in contention for the highest office have the will to respond to these challenges? As citizens head to the polls on December 7th, they will be faced with a choice between a “change agenda” or a “transforming lives” mantra, with the hope that the leader they elect will deliver on Ghana’s full potential.

Idayat Hassan is the director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), an Abuja-based policy advocacy and research organization

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