Africa

UK election's high drama and subdued tones missing in Ghana

A woman votes in Ghana's 2012 elections Image copyright Getty Images

In our series of letters from African journalists, Ghanaian writer Elizabeth Ohene, a former government minister and member of the opposition, compares the drama of the UK's recent elections to the slower proceedings in her own country.

There are some things the British do with such aplomb, it is a joy to watch. I suppose since they have been conducting elections for hundreds of years, it is not surprising they manage it with such style. At least that is how it comes across to those of us watching from the outside.

It's quite likely that behind the scenes a British election might not be the smooth operation that it seems but one cannot but admire the brutality and sweetness of the drama.

The official campaign period lasts for about four weeks; in Ghana it feels like it goes on for four years.

On polling day there are no long queues anywhere. When the polls closed at 22:00 the first constituency to declare results did so after 48 minutes. The last result came in just under 17 hours and 30 minutes. In Ghana we are lucky to get 50% of results after 24 hours.


Elizabeth Ohene:

Image copyright Elizabeth Ohene

"The sheer drama of an unexpected loss and equally unexpected win, played out before the whole world cannot be bettered by a Hollywood script. "


And who can beat the UK in eccentricity and quirkiness?

My favourite is The Official Monster Raving Loony Party. When I lived in the UK, I was tempted to vote for them but I never mustered the courage to do so.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Toby Jug from the Eccentric Party of Great Britain waites at the count

Stiff upper lip

Over here in Ghana we were taken up with the declaration of results in the recent Nigerian elections as vice chancellor after vice chancellor came to read out the results from their states. But nothing can beat the British declaration method. All the candidates line up and the electoral officer comes to intone the results. The sheer drama of an unexpected loss and equally unexpected win, played out before the whole world cannot be bettered by a Hollywood script.

I know the British have a patent on the stiff upper lip syndrome but it cannot be easy for a shadow chancellor to lose an election by the narrowest of margins and then have to make a gracious speech. And how can you be expected to make a measured winning speech as a 20-year-old that has just taken the scalp of the election strategist of the party that was expecting to win and form the government.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Shadow chancellor Ed Balls demonstrates the stiff upper lip amid the narrowest of defeats...
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption ... the lip is still stiff, though quavering...
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption ... and it is back to classic stiff upper lip again
Image copyright PA
Image caption Douglas Alexander demonstrates another stiff upper lip after being defeated by a 20-year-old

Within 24 hours of voting, the prime minister was back in his official residence of Downing Street. If he had lost, he would not have come back there at all, at least not through the front door, and the new prime minister would have been seen entering those doors whilst the removal vans were taking the loser's belongings through the back door.

High drama

Probably the most dramatic sequence of events was the resignation of the losing party leaders. Ed Miliband of the Labour party, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage of UKIP stepped down within an hour of each other albeit with Mr Farage since rescinding his resignation.

To my mind, those who led them to think they would do much better than they did, the pollsters and the journalists, should have been the ones to be resigning. But in true British style, they muttered stiff apologies and are carrying on.

Twenty-four hours after the event you could look over the landscape of the UK and you would never know there had been a night of high drama. You just have to admire them.

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