Vote of low confidence

Vote of low confidence

By Kojo Pumpuni Asante

BBC Focus on Africa magazine October - December 2008

Ghanaians are asking themselves again, after four elections since the return to multiparty democracy in 1992, if the polls will be free and fair.

Rather than the discussing the prospect of achieving important milestones in Ghana's democratic history, ordinary Ghanaians find themselves concerned with the same old perennial uncertainties around elections in Africa.

Whether Ghana can avoid the disasters of Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

The basis of these agitations is well grounded.

Many analysts have predicted a very competitive election, perhaps even more competitive than the 2000 elections that went to a second round of voting and led to the first transfer of power from one party to another in Ghana's history.

There are several possible reasons for this.

To start with, the two leading political parties, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the current ruling party, and the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the former ruling party, have both served two consecutive terms in office.

So Ghanaians can now compare their records and determine which should be rewarded with a third term.

Another reason relates to the resurgence of the Convention People's Party (CPP), the party of the first leader of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, and led by a well-accomplished aspirant and a former minister in President John Kufuor's government.

Election pundits have predicted that the CPP is likely to take votes away from both NPP and NDC.

Lastly, the percentage point difference between the NPP and NDC in the last two elections has been close – in 2004 it was around seven per cent.

There is also a real possibility of violence if the Electoral Commission (EC) fails to assert its independence and integrity as well as manage the elections professionally and credibly.

Until Kenya's explosive elections last December, the prospect of post-election disintegration in Ghana seemed unimaginable, with the general perception that the EC in particular could do no wrong.

The 2007 fraudulent elections in Nigeria did nothing to upset the high trust ratings in the EC.

Ghanaians simply dismissed the Nigerian elections as peculiar to Nigerian politics and history.

Kenya, on the other hand, was a different proposition.

It was considered stable, progressive with an electoral body that was well respected in Africa.

Once the electoral body in Kenya was implicated in the vote rigging, Ghana's EC lost its invincibility and the prospects for credible violence-free elections in Ghana became a rebuttable presumption.

The EC has come under severe attack by the opposition NDC and, in recent times, even by the ruling party and ordinary Ghanaians on charges ranging from perceived collusion and mismanagement to arrogance and incompetence.

The electoral calendar has been thrown into turmoil after two postponements of the opening of the voters register for new voters.

When the registration exercise eventually took off it was marred by incidents of violence, political parties influencing minors to register, excessive double registration and acute shortages of election materials in several centres.

Eventually, the EC had to extend the exercise for another two days but despite this the closing stages of the exercise still saw long queues in some registration centres.

There is the real possibility that some eligible voters have been disenfranchised.

Apart from the EC and political parties who emerged from the registration exercise with question marks behind them, other key actors like the security forces and traditional rulers did not fare any better.

Allegations of the unfair handling of various cases involving ruling and opposition party supporters have called into question the impartiality of the security forces.

This in turn undermines community cooperation critical to securing peaceful elections.

Also the actions of a few traditional rulers who openly showed their partisan biases in violation of constitutional prohibitions also have the potential to reignite latent chieftaincies and ethnic conflict in parts of the country.

In spite of all these challenges there is good news.

Despite the fear that a highly competitive election runs the risk of producing election campaigns based on personalities rather than issues, Ghanaians themselves are engaged in healthy debate.

They want to know which party can best address bread-and-butter issues on the economy, education, health, unemployment and, with the recent oil find, who will be best positioned to avoid the 'resource curse'.

The differences between the NPP, NDC and CPP on these issues are minimal though: the NPP professes to be right of centre, the NDC left of centre and the CPP to the left.

If there is a policy difference then it is the degree to which the state will play a central role in achieving these goals – drawing lessons from emerging economies in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

The call for an issue-based campaign has been led by civil society.

There have been presidential debates on the economy, energy and the vision for moving Ghana into middle-income territory.

There are several programmes on radio and television discussing policy issues with ordinary Ghanaians who text or call in with their questions or contributions.

This focus on policy and the desire to compare the records of leading political parties coupled with projections of a high number of undecided voters point to the likelihood that Ghanaians want to vote on issues rather than personalities.

The sad and ironic reality is that in an emerging democracy, elections still remain one of the most powerful events capable of derailing any democratic project.

No young democracy should take them for granted.

Kojo Pumpuni Asante is a research officer on governance and legal policy at the Centre for Democratic Development in Accra

Ghana 2008 | Africa Today | Africa Today archive | Focus on Africa Magazine

The differences between the NPP, NDC and CPP are minimal: the NPP professes to be right of centre, the NDC left of centre and the CPP to the left.

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