13 December 2012

Ghana: The Ghana Elections


Presidential and parliamentary elections held in Ghana on Friday December 7, 2012. Incumbent John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was declared winner of the presidential poll, after scoring 50.7 per cent of the votes cast to beat his nearest challenger, Nana Akufo-Addo of the National Patriotic Party (NPP), who got 47.74 per cent.

Voting was extended to the next day to enable those barred by a breakdown of biometric verification machines to cast their votes. The 4000 domestic election observers and the ECOWAS election observer team led by Nigeria's former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, noted these technical hitches but emphasized that it did not affect the fairness and transparency of the process. Eight candidates took part in the presidential contest. The only woman candidate, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, of the newly registered National Democratic Party, was disqualified by the election body due to mistakes in the party's application documents.

The parliamentary election was held in 275 constituencies, with Ashanti, Greater Accra and Eastern regions holding the top three largest numbers of constituencies at 47, 34 and 33 seats respectively. The Ashanti, Gaa and Ewe ethnic blocs cannot ensure victory for a candidate without strong spread among the 14 million voters across the country. Like the recent elections in the United States, factors like ethnicity, regional and social aspirations affected voting behaviour, as much as policy visions sketched out by candidates and parties.

The NPP, whose candidate Nana Akufo-Addo lost the 2008 with one per cent, contested the results claiming "planned, systematic stealing of votes at the collation level" by officials of the National Election Commission.

With a record of five military coups from 1966 to 1981 and five peaceful changes of government through free and fair elections, Ghanaian voters and politicians went to the polls aware of a reputation to protect as one of West Africa's most promising stable democracies. Musicians released peace songs; groups organised peace marches, while all eight presidential candidates signed a document in Kumasi "promising to usher in the December presidential and legislative elections in peace". The National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) organised public rallies for parliamentary candidates to promise peaceful election campaigns. In a pre-election broadcast President Mahama urged voters to uphold a legacy of Ghana's election being a "beacon of hope for the entire African continent".

At 80 per cent turnout, with some voters lining up at polling stations as early as 3 a.m., the poll was a mark of the confidence built over time by a transparent National Electoral Commission; the success of politicians, political parties, civic education agencies and civil society groups in mobilizing the electorate to participate in a matter critical to governance. Electoral commission chief Kwadwo Afari-Gyan and his team have worked to deepen the bedrock of trust that withstood breakdowns of biometric verification machines. Voters remained calm and gave the agency a chance to conduct voting the following day. Even the aggrieved NPP did not blame the technical failures as devious ways to rig the election.

The opposition NPP is till mulling a possible challenge of the results in court even as party militants grumble darkly. With oil wealth flowing into the economy since 2010, more airlines have schedule flights into Accra. Ghana's politicians and leaders must avoid the notorious spectre of "blood- oil" polluting their land and politics. The temptation is strong for NPP leaders to get desperate about access to the oil-till. As a former foreign minister, Mr Akufo-Addo should be aware of the cynical face of the international arena. The lessons of externally supported violence in mineral-rich DR Congo, Darfur and Iraq must be clear to the NPP leaders. They cannot wish it for their own country.

On his part, Mahama must be aware that corruption remains a severe threat to legitimacy of governments. Unemployment both humiliates and builds anger in youths everywhere; Ghana cannot be an exception. The government's promise of self-reliant development sadly remains unfulfilled; so also has the promise to the Peer Review Mechanism of the African Union to open political and top administrative posts to women, not been met, as reflected in an all-male presidential list and only one-Vice presidential list.

Apart from showing some magnanimity in victory, Mr Mahama should begin the serious business of addressing these issues.

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