written by New African Magazine
Ghana's December 2016 election was notable for, among other things, the absence of a contested aftermath. Ghanaians voted peacefully, the votes were counted fast and accurately, and the losing incumbent conceded gracefully – all solidifying Ghana’s sterling democratic credentials.
With a winning margin of 53.85% to 44.40% (including victory in each of the four swing regions of Greater Accra, Western, Central and Brong Ahafo), Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo, 72, beat incumbent John Dramani Mahama, 55, to the presidency. Many believed that the election was the NDC’s to lose.
A source within the NPP campaign even stated: “We weren’t confident going into election day.” So how did the NPP snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? Below, we offer seven reasons why the voters turned against the NDC, and how the NPP was able to convert its old weaknesses into strengths.
1. NPP won the debate on the issues
The election turned on the economic question. The country’s dramatic downturn was arguably the single biggest issue of the campaign. The NPP proved more focused on the key issues. While there were the usual insults andaccusations of mismanagement and corruption, the NPP, having transformed its image from the last election as an ethnocentric party, presented through vice-presidentelect Mahamudu Bawumia, a northerner, a national face, and proved more adept on the question of fixing the economy. The NPP offered concrete, tangible pledges both through their manifesto and on the campaign rostrums. They pledged to restore the flagging economy by cutting taxes, increasing production and stimulating the private sector to create jobs. Another key pledge was to tackle the corruption problemin the country head-on, with the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to ensure that convictions are swift and illicit monies are returned to government coffers. They were also able to execute a highly effectiveand inclusive grassroots campaign and to attract a significant number of small-scale donations, raised through door-to-door campaigning.
2. NPP won the race for election technologies
Following the electoral irregularities in the previous elections in 2012 that led to a failed legal challenge by the NPP, the party decided to employ manual and electronic systems that ensured they had their own parallel sets of results from each of the country’s 29,000 polling stations and 275 constituencies.
The party took on Joe Anokye, a NASA employee, as its Technology Director for the campaign. He developed an application that could simultaneously transmit results from the polling station to both constituency and national levels, ensuring layers of verification. To ensure that this plan worked, the party had to seek out incorruptible members in each constituency and trained them over a period of 6-7 months. This meant that the NPP headquarters was receiving (and transmitting) results before the Electoral Commission. They were able to declare their provisional results less than 12 hours after polls closed. This in turn put pressure on the Electoral Commission, virtually cancelled out any latent tendency to fiddle with the vote tallies, and, along with the party’s demands for Mahama to concede, put pressure on the president.
3. NPP vigilance suppressed illegal voting
The NPP had raised challenges to the voter’s register in the run-up to the elections, alleging that there were many Togolese citizens on the roll. The EC rejected the claims and no action was taken over the issue so the party instead launched “Operation Eagle Eye”.
The operation had the stated aim of reducing the number of Togolese illegally crossing the border to vote in the Volta region, an NDC stronghold. While a suppressed turnout cannot be wholly attributed to this operation, at roughly 60%, turnout in the region was significantly lower than the last elections – and below the overall national average of 68%.
4. Bread and butter trumped infrastructure development
While the NDC was busy commissioning hardcore infrastructure such as schools, roads and hospitals to garner support for re-election, Ghanaian voters were concerned about how to put food on the table. Once again, the NDC’s fundamental misreading of the real economic situation cost it theelection. GDP growth now hovers either side of 4% while the cost of living is high and unemploymentand inflation have increased sharply. A Centre for Democratic Development survey revealed that 73% of Ghanaians describe the present economic situation as “very” or “fairly” bad.
5. NDC was punished for its poor corruption track record
To echo the words of former President John Agyekum Kufuor, “corruption is as old as Adam and Eve”. There can be little denying that corruption has become pervasive in Ghana and numerous cases were seen in recent years.
Some of the more prominent examples include: the ongoing case of a businessman and NDC financier, paid some $12.3m for an abrogated government contract before being ordered to pay it back by the Supreme Court; concerns raised over the alleged inflation of the $510m purchase of 10 gas turbines from the UAE-based company, Ameri; the awarding of an $885,000 bus branding contract to a company owned by the wife of a party stalwart, as well as large scandals at the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority and Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Agency.
Two founding members of the NDC – Martin Amidu, who servedas Attorney General under the late President Mills, and former first lady Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings – have both been extremely vocal critics of Mahama’s government over corruption.
6. NDC was punished by aggrieved public sector workers
Three weeks before the election, the government restored a nurses’ training allowance having previously cancelled it, paying each trainee $110. It was a complete U-turn by the party, which had said earlier in the campaign that it would not be possible to pay the allowances. It was also too little, too late. The NDC government has struggled with a ballooning public sector wage bill. However, this was arguably made worse by a lack of consistency across the board, especially when it came to keeping old pledges to either raise salaries or allowances, evident in the fact that aside from the nurses, the government had also recently locked horns with teachers over salary arrears.
7. The Rawlings factor, or its absence
The charismatic founder of the NDC and former president, Jerry John Rawlings, was notably absent from the NDC campaign for reasons best known to the party executives. Previously critical of key members of the Mahama administration, it is no secret that he and Mahama do not get along. But keeping the charismatic Rawlings, who is still widely popular, off the campaign trail cost the NDC. Indeed, his absence was one of the reasons for the poor voter turnout in the Volta region, Rawlings’ home state.
So, what next?
So, what does the future hold in store for Ghana? The weight of expectation bears down heavily on the shoulders of Akufo-Addo, and his incoming administration. Ghanaians voted for change and expect it expeditiously.
Anecdotally, NDC accusations of tribalism aimed at the NPP and Akufo-Addo in particular, did not play well. Instead, they were condemned by independent voices on radio, NDC founder JJ Rawlings and Akufo-Addo himself.
Akufo-Addo, in marked contrast to the 2012 campaign where he often came across as an Akan nationalist, has been careful to present a nationalist face – avoiding especially the controversial statements of the last election that could be interpreted as ethnic chauvinism. Related to this is the severely depressed economy.
The economic challenges facing the country are numerous and restrictions placed on fiscal policy by the IMF as part of the 2015 bailout may interfere with the plans Akufo-Addo has for tax reforms.
Increasing access to social media platforms in the country means that voters are kept abreast of up-to-date developments and are also able to shine a light on the activities of their leaders and hold them to acceptable standards of good governance. It is entirely likely that NDC founder, JJ Rawlings, will want to increase his dominance once the party is in opposition. He may find generous support from party members unhappy with the direction Mahama was taking the party in. Sources close to the national executives of the party have said that they are seeing the loss as an opportunity to root out the corrupt members and start taking strides to clear the somewhat tarnished reputation of the NDC.