6 December 2012

Ghanaians Elect President and 275 Parliamentarians

Ghana has extended voting in its presidential election into a second day, officials said, after technical problems prevented thousands of people in ... ( Resource: Ghana Extends Voting After Technical Glitch )

Some 14 million Ghanaian voters will be expected to queue up in a couple of hours at 26,000 polling stations to cast their vote in the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. The polls which will open at 7am will be expected to close at 5pm followed immediately by the counting of the ballots.

Turnout is expected to be high and already there are reports of voters hanging around polling stations 12 clear hours before polls open, with some planting objects such as stones and blocks in queues to get them the opportunity to vote early.

The race to the presidency has been described as too close to call as the two frontrunners, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) are both determined to win the elections and form the next government for a four-year term.

There are eight men including an independent candidate seeking to become the next president. Also at stake is the contest for 275 seats in parliament by 1,332 candidates from 14 of the 23 registered political parties. Out of the number, 133 are female contestants.

This will be the sixth time that Ghanaians will be going to the polls to elect a President and Members of Parliament after the country returned to civilian rule in 1992, following 3 previous democratic regimes that were truncated and interspersed by 5 different military interventions since the country gained independence in 1957 from the British.

Why the stakes are high?

Less than 1% of total votes cast separated the NDC and NPP in the last elections held four years ago which traveled three rounds of voting after none of the parties obtained the mandatory 50% and 1 vote required to form a government. The run-off could neither determine a winner, as elections were cancelled in one constituency - Tain which had more number of voters on the register than the 23,055 vote difference between the NDC and the NPP.

The situation made Tain, a hitherto relatively unknown and small constituency in the upper middle belt region of Brong Ahafo very popular, transformed into instant 'kingmakers' of the last election. Considering the closeness of the previous election, the opposition NPP finds it plausible to overturn the results after four years of the NDC rule.

The stakes are also high because of the protagonists involved in the contest. The leader of the NPP Nana Akufo-Addo, is a known political activist whose activism spans a period of four decades. He is the son of a former Head of State in the 2nd Republic, though ceremonial. At his current age of 68, it is believed that it is the last time he could possibly run for the top job. The NDC on the other hand would not want to be the first government to be kicked out of office only after a four-year stint in office.

The oil and gas factor

The newly found natural resource has also contributed to the level of competition for the top job. It is highly anticipated that the winner of the elections will benefit immensely from the oil and gas resources, which can be used to significantly transform the economy- the kind of transformation that may endear the next government to the people such that it would be more difficult to unseat it in the 2016 polls.

This notion together with the possible personal benefits that may accrue to the political elite in the government is also a factor for the very competitive nature of this year's general elections. Although the oil revenue hovers around 340 million dollars which is less than 1% of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), new discoveries are made every now and then, giving indications that the real oil economy is about to begin. Current production levels range between 80,000 and 85,000 barrels per day, below the projected levels of 120,000 barrels per day, with projections by the oil companies that production levels will go up significantly in the coming years.

Internal party wrangling

The ruling NDC is going into the elections battling with the issue of internal unity. Although this is not the first time a splinter group has come out of the party, the defection is being led by a former first lady and wife of the charismatic and enigmatic founder Jerry John Rawlings who has for the first time not openly campaigned for the party. Former President Rawlings and wife Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings have previously campaigned vigorously for the NDC.

But the couple developed cold feet for the late former President Atta Mills who was Vice President to Mr. Rawlings and later became the "chosen one" to succeed him in a failed bid in the 2000 elections. The disaffection for the once "chosen one" so deepened that Mr. Rawlings backed his wife to contest against the then incumbent President Mills at the party's primaries middle of last year but the former first lady could only garner a disappointing 3.1% votes and subsequently broke ranks to join another party, the National Democratic Party, which she is speculated to have formed. After failing to contest for the general elections as flagbearer of her NDP due to her disqualification resulting from the submission of uncompleted nomination forms, the former first lady has gone public to campaign against the party her husband founded.

However the NDC could win some sympathy votes after its original flagbearer, President John Mills passed in July this year. The then Vice President John Mahama who was sworn in as President in line with the constitution of the country, subsequently became the party's candidate through a no contest election. His election is believed to have increased the chances of the ruling party as he appears to enjoy some tacit support of the founder who publicly said "the emergence of John Mahama has also added a spark to the governing party and has brought about the possibility of the ruling party also winning the election".

What's new?

Each succeeding election has seen some additions to the process intended to improve on it. The first elections of 1992 had non transparent ballot boxes and voter identity cards without photographers. Subsequent elections saw the introduction of photographs, transparent ballot boxes, and regular review of the voters register to rid it of multiple registration and other malpractices. In this year's elections, the registration was done with the capturing of biometric data. Voting will be done with the verification of the biometric information of each voter. This introduction is expected to greatly enhance the credibility of the register.

However the several breakdowns of machines during the biometric registration exercise generated a lot of anxiety ahead of the polls. The fears appear to have subsided following a successful early voting exercise done last Wednesday for security personnel and officials of the Electoral Commission.

The new registration also came with a new Constitutional Instrument and new rules intended to sanitize the process. The Chairman of the Electoral Commission Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan at a media interaction on Wednesday stressed that the political parties had agreed at a meeting that "No Verification, No Voting,' implying that every voter would have to be verified biometrically before he or she is allowed to vote.

In the past there had been instances where votes cast in a few polling stations outnumbered the number of people on the register for those stations. But Dr. Afari-Gyan in reference to the meeting of political parties said "We have agreed in principle that where the vote found in the ballot box outnumber the number of people verified to vote the results of that polling station will be cancelled and we will re-run the elections if the result will make a difference to the winner".

The issues

Education has been the dominant issue in this year's election following the promise of the NPP to implement a free secondary education dubbed Free Senior High School (SHS), which features prominently at every communication of the party. This proposal was originally made by other parties such as the Convention People's Party (CPP) and the Progressive Peoples Party (PPP), an offshoot of the CPP. But the NPP made the policy the top campaign issue. The NPP proposal is countered by the NDC which argues that such a policy will compromise the quality of education and was also not sustainable. The NDC is proposing expanding infrastructure as a way of addressing quality and progressively making education free.

Other issues that have come up include health care, a strong economy and job creation as well as other social interventions.

Potential flashpoints

Ghana has had five consecutive free and fair elections without major conflicts. However each election period has been greeted with some amount of tension and anxiety, with the 2008 elections witnessing the most tensed political period.

This year's election has been described as the least tensed ahead of the polling day itself as the electioneering campaigns have been more issues based with less personal verbal attacks on political opponents. Nonetheless the security agencies led by the Police Service are leaving nothing to chance and have come out with 1,000 identified potential flashpoints which will be given special attention to ensure that the voting process is incident free.

Opinion polls

A number of opinion polls often with conflicting outcomes have been published over the past four months. Six of the 11 of the most publicized polls have given the lead to the NPP while 5 said the ruling NDC will be retained. Most of these polls are predicting an outright winner with votes in excess of 52%. The credibility of these polls have however been questioned by either of the two major parties. The methods, sample sizes, and time frame of these survey-based polls also vary greatly.

Declaration of results

The outcome of the elections will bring to a close all the speculations based on the opinion polls. Counting of ballots begins immediately the polls end at 5pm on Friday but final results are expected after 48 hours. However the Chairman of the Electoral Commission has said that the nation should have a fair idea of who is winning within 48 hours.

Three of the previously held elections have been won by the NDC in 1992, 1996 and 2008, while the NPP won in 2000 and 2004.

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