The NPP campaign programme was effective but at the end of the day, Akufo-Addo did not win the elections, John Mahama lost it. Ghana’s electoral geography is well known and there are swing districts that change to deliver victory or defeat to incumbents. The swing districts all moved to the opposition.
I was an observer of last Wednesday’s elections in Ghana with the National Democratic Institute. The outcome of the presidential election was victory for the opposition candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo on his third attempt, with a massive 54.2 percent of the votes, while President John Mahama got only 44 percent of the votes. The victory ended what Ghanaians call the ‘John Jinx’ after having successive presidents with John as first name – John J. Rawlings, John A. Kuffour, John A. Mills and John Mahama, before the movement to Nana.
Normally, the gap between the winner and loser in Ghana’s presidential election is very narrow. Something happened this time, leading to the rejection of the incumbent who had argued vigorously that he was yet to have his second term in office. In recent electoral culture in Ghana, ruling parties succeed in winning a second term, and after eight years in office are defeated by the opposition CHANGE candidate. It happened to former presidents Jerry Rawlings and John Kuffour. The outgoing president appeared confident that it would not happen to him because he served out the final months of late President Mills, so he has not had his full eight years in office, although his party had indeed been in power for eight years. Of course the convention is not a rule and citizens can vote in and out who they like and that is what they did.
The elections were an impressive display of smooth, professional, almost incident-free operations. Electoral procedures were strictly followed, turn out was however relatively low, with the verification machines working almost without failure, and voters found their names on the register. The culture of free, fair and credible elections has clearly been established in Ghana. The Electoral Commission had announced that the results would be released within 72 hours but they delivered in 48 hours. The incumbent president called his opponent and congratulated him on his victory, and the victor made a gracious acceptance speech.
…the Mahama government was considered as one of the most corrupt in Ghana’s history. The opposition party hammered on the corruption of his regime throughout the campaign. The argument about his achievements on developing infrastructure got weakened by the counter narrative that the projects were vehicles to deliver mega looting through over-inflated contracts.
This veneer of success hides the deep bitterness between Ghana’s two leading parties. The opposition candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, ran his campaign on the belief that his party, the NPP, had won presidential elections on two previous occassions but were out rigged by the NDC, and that on this third attempt by their candidate, they would succeed because they have developed mandate protection strategies. I have discussed with many specialists and they all concur that there is no evidence that the two previous elections were rigged but as we find out increasingly in popular electoral culture, many do not care about facts when belief in partisan positions is much more confortable. Of course the New Patriotic Party (NPP) presidential candidate, is 72 years old and clearly, this is his third and last chance to bid for power. The campaign was very bitter and acrimonious but our question today is what did the opposition do well this time to account for their success?
President Mahama had campaigned on what he called his excellent record on infrastructural development in the country. His successes in this regard are clear. He has carried out significant expansion of water supply in the Greater Accra zone. The roads in Accra have been transformed with expressways significantly reducing traffic congestion. The Kwame Nkrumah Interchange in Accra is one of the leading sites of urban dazzle in Africa. Major trunk roads to various regions have also been built. His achievements also include the construction of new teaching and district hospitals. His basic campaign argument was that if he gets a second term, Ghana would see more development. His arguments were not as convincing as they should have been for two reasons.
First, the Mahama government was considered as one of the most corrupt in Ghana’s history. The opposition party hammered on the corruption of his regime throughout the campaign. The argument about his achievements on developing infrastructure got weakened by the counter narrative that the projects were vehicles to deliver mega looting through over-inflated contracts. Second, he failed to keep his promise of ending erratic power supply, which was something all Ghanaians could see. Third, his management of the economy was weak. People simply did not believe his assertion that he had created 400,000 jobs in four years. The slide of the cedi, relative to the dollar, created an atmosphere of economic collapse. Finally, his attempt to stop the withdrawal of cash in dollars from domiciliary accounts created a huge rift between the government and the significant upper middle class in the country, which received salaries, collected rents and executed consultancies in dollars. I was in Accra when the policy was announced last year and I witnessed a spontaneous street demonstration of Ghana’s elite, who felt threatened by the economic policy thrust. Mahama was forced to withdraw the policy but the harm had already been done; he had lost elite support.
The greatest undoing of Mahama however was that in his “secure” districts, turnout was low; too many habitual NDC simply did not come out to vote, they had lost the enthusiasm they had for their candidate. The concern for many NDC supporters was that their party had lost its expected commitment to helping the poor and marginalised…
The opposition NPP was able to mount a more convincing campaign programme based on the principle of even development. Their core argument was that they would reverse the Accra-Kumasi focused development approach and spread development projects to all the nooks and corners of the country. They proposed two key programmes. The first is the “One District, One Factory” project, through which they said they’d build a factory to provide jobs in each of the country’s 216 districts. Secondly, they made a formal commitment that each of the country’s 275 parliamentary constituencies would be allocated at least one million dollars every year for four years for it to carry out poverty alleviation programmes. In other words, they would not concentrate the execution of development projects in the centre but would spread the funds. It might have been for this reason that they won seats in many regions that they had not won seats in previously.
The NPP campaign programme was effective but at the end of the day, Akufo-Addo did not win the elections, John Mahama lost it. Ghana’s electoral geography is well known and there are swing districts that change to deliver victory or defeat to incumbents. The swing districts all moved to the opposition. The greatest undoing of Mahama however was that in his “secure” districts, turnout was low; too many habitual NDC simply did not come out to vote; they had lost the enthusiasm they had for their candidate. The concern for many NDC supporters was that their party had lost its expected commitment to helping the poor and marginalised and the president had become aloof and arrogant after being surrounded by a corrupt cabal. Core NDC supporters would never vote for an NPP candidate but by staying home rather than voting, they ensured that their candidate who they loved less than they did previously would not have a second term in office.