Ghana, West Africa’s Darling of Democracy Heads to the Polls

Ghana, the poster child for democracy in West Africa, votes to elect its future leaders on Wednesday.

The race for the presidency is expected to be a straight contest between the National Democratic Congress (NDC), their campaign being run on the mantra of “transforming lives”, and the National Patriotic Party (NPP), which is campaigning on a “change agenda”. But there is also continuing debate over whether the ‘Nkrumahist’ forces, including the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), can emerge as a third option for voters.

The leading presidential candidates are the same as those who featured in the last election in 2012: President John Mahama of the NDC and opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP. About 25 political parties are contesting the general election, but only seven candidates are in the race for the presidency (six representing political parties and one independent).

The Ghana Electoral Commission (EC) has disqualified 12 presidential nominees on the basis of issues including errors on forms, forgery, incomplete forms, falsified signatures of nominees and invalid endorsements.

Judicialisation of Politics

In the lead-up to the presidential elections, a positive development has been the “judicialisation” of some elements of the electoral process.

An example of this was the case brought before the Supreme Court against the EC concerning the use of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) card as a form of identification for voter registration.

The plaintiffs, having obtained a perpetual injunction in 2014 restraining the EC from using NHIS cards for registration, again approached the Supreme Court for an order requesting the EC expunge from the voters’ register the names of all persons who registered for the 2012 elections using the cards. The court responded by ordering the deletion of the names of all those who registered with the cards, and further ruled that the EC remove the names of all other ineligible persons including those of deceased persons. However, the court refrained from rendering the voters’ register invalid.

Special Voting Procedure

Additional tension is being generated between the EC and political parties over the special vote, a procedure envied by many in the region.

The special vote enables those unable to vote at their polling units on election day to vote on a designated day ahead of the elections. An initial 65,000 persons were confirmed on the list of special voters. The list was later updated to 114,813 persons, and the current figure sits at 127,394.

There are allegations that newly-recruited police officials were introduced into the list less than 42 days ahead of the election, in breach of a minimum period prescribed by law. This has led some political parties to argue that the EC is not conforming to its own rules and regulations as stated in the Ghana Constitution of 1992.

The NPP sued the EC, requesting that the results of special voting, which took place on December 1, be announced at the closure of the polls. However, the Supreme Court dismissed the law suit.

Despite the series of challenges the EC has been faced with, it is commendable to see that matters continue to be settled by the court.

The High Stakes

Against the backdrop of accusations and counter-accusations of procedural abuse, the lack of trust in the EC and its leadership by some political parties is a worrisome development. Additionally, the EC has been accused of favoring a particular political party. If the EC is to remain credible, it must prioritize regaining the trust of both political parties and citizens.

The campaign trail has had its share of excitement. As expected, President Mahama has taken full advantage of his position as the incumbent to unveil new infrastructure projects across the country. He has also monopolized the media with his campaign adverts and most billboards around the country. This has been complemented by “Rock Da Vote” concerts hosted by Ovation International magazine.

The elections have also been replete with political violence in various parts of the country. The phenomenon of henchmen has creeped into the polity, in the form of vigilantes loyal to the major political parties.

Prominent amongst these groups are the NDC’s “Azorka Boys” and the NPP’s “Bolga Bull Dogs” and “Invincible Forces”.

The NDC continues denies any affiliation with the vigilantes who support it, while the NPP argues that the lack of equal treatment by the security forces has made the formation of vigilante groups inevitable.

The stakes in the elections are so high that in an attempt to woo voters, the NPP and NDC have been promising ‘Eldorado’.

For instance, the NPP has promised to build a factory in each district of the country. In an attempt to counter this promise, the NDC has undertaken to pay salaries instead of sitting allowances to members of the 216 local government assemblies in the country. As candidates travel around the country making promises, citizen groups are making note of these pledges.

The IMANI Centre for Policy and Education, a think-tank based in Accra, is running extensive analyses on the party manifestos and how they align with citizens’ expectations. It is anticipated that a promise-tracking mechanism like Nigeria’s Buharimeter, developed to monitor the implementation of campaign promises of the ruling party, will follow.

Against the backdrop of the problems many Ghanaian citizens face–such as unemployment, corruption, incessa nt power outages or lack of electricity, dual tax burdens on the working class, the debt portfolio and poor infrastructure–do any of the political parties in contention for the highest office have the will to respond to these challenges?

As citizens head to the polls on December 7, they will be faced with a choice between a “change agenda” or a “transforming lives” mantra, with the hope that the leader they elect will deliver on Ghana’s full potential.

Idayat Hassan is the director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), an Abuja-based policy advocacy and research organization.