Uneasy calm as Ghanaians elect new president, MPs
The stakes are high in Ghana as President Nana Akufo- Ado and former President John Mahama, out of the 12 candidates in the country’s presidential race, are locked in a neck-and-neck battle. FELIX NWANERI reports
Over 17 million Ghanaians go to the polls today to elect a new president along with 275 Membersof Parliament(MPs) across thecountry’s16regions. Theelectionisthe eighthconsecutivesinceGhana’sreturnto multi-party democracy in 1992.
Though 12 contestants are in the race, including three women, there is no doubt that the poll is a two-horse race between incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo and immediate past President John Mahama.
This makes the contest a re-election push for both candidates as the winner will be serving a second and final term as president. Interestingly, it is the third time Akufo- Addo and Mahama would be squaring againsteachotherfor Ghana’spresidency.
The first time the duo met at the polls was in2012inwhichMahamapolled 5.5million votes(50.70percent) againstAkufo-Addo’s 5.2 million (47.74 per cent). The latter challenged the result; he alleged that thousands of ballots were invalid, among other irregularities.
The consequent legal tussle lasted for eight months before it was resolved by the nation’s Supreme Court via a split five to four verdict that confirmed Mahama as president. The duo squared against each other againinthe2016presidentialelection.
This time, Akufo-Addo emerged victorious. He defeated Mahama by garnering 53.85 per cent of the votes, which marked the first time in a Ghanaian presidential election that an opposition candidate won a majority outright in the first round of balloting.
Seventy-six year-old Akufo-Addo, who istheflyingflagof theNewPatrioticParty (NPP) forarecordconsecutivefourthtime is a lawyer. He also holds a degree in Economics. He was Ghana’s Minister of Justice from 2001 until 2003, when he became Foreign Minister.
His first attempt at the presidency was in the 2008; others where 2012 and 2016. He is a member of a royal family from AkyeminGhana’sEasternRegion. Hisfather wasalsopresidentbeforebeingousted in a 1972 coup.
For Mahama, aged 62, he is the standard bearer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Today’s poll is the third consecutive time he would be flying the party’s presidential flag in the last 12 years. The former president, who is also seeking a second term, served as Ghana’s vice president from 2009 to 2012, and took office as president on July 24, 2012, following the death of then President John Atta Mills.
Acommunicationexpert, historian, and writer, Mahama waselected toservehisfirst termaspresidentinthe2012election. Before then, he was a member of Parliament from 1997 to 2009 and minister of Communications between 1998 and 2001.
No doubt, Akufo-Addo and Mahama are the leading candidates but interestingly, three women are also in the race for the Ghanaian presidency. One of them, a former first lady, Nana Rawlings, is the standard bearer of National Democratic Party (NDP).
The two others are Akua Donkor of Ghana Freedom Party (GFP) and Brigette Dzogbenuku of Progressive Peoples Party (PPP). There is also an independent candidate in the person of Alfred Walker.
Other candidates are Christian Andrews, Ghana Union Movement (GUM); Ivor Greenstreet, Convention Peoples Party (CPP); Henry Lartey, Great Consolidated Popular Party (GCPP); Hassan Ayariga, All Peoples Congress (APC); Percival Akpaloo, Liberal Party of Ghana (LPG) and David Akpasera, Peoples National Convention (PNC).
Head to head, both the NPP and NDC, have what it takes to carry the day. The two parties have dominated Ghana politics for decades and previous ballots have been too close to call.
The country’s 1992 constitution brought into force the 4th Republic andtoday’spresidential election is the eight in the dispensation – 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. The NDC won four of the polls (1992, 1996,2008and2012), whiletheNPPwonthee (2000,2004and 2016). Noneof thetwoparties had won three consecutive terms in office.
Ghana employs a series of processes in ensuring transparency, fairness and credibility of her polls. The main elements include use of ballot papers, biometric verification processes, a secret ballot and transparent ballot boxes.
The ballot papers are foldable sheets of paper bearing details of each candidate. It has three slots per candidate – the photo, the party’s symbol and a space for the thumbprint mark. Ballot papers are the basic voting material.
However, before a person is handed the ballot paper, he or she must have presented a voters card at a polling station and gone through biometric identification process, which involves placing of ones finger on a biometric verification device. If itfails to recognizetheperson’sdetails, thereisroomfor a manual process after the party officials andElectoralCommission(EC) aresatisfied with the processes.
A person with a stamped ballot then enters a voting booth where he or she is supposed to cast the ballot and fold the papers before dropping it in a transparent box set in the open.
Ghana previously used opaque boxes and with that there were reports of ballot stuffing, especially in party strongholds hence after a series of electoral reform proposals, the transparent ballot boxes were adopted in 2000.
Declaration of winners
Over17millionvoterswereregisteredin acontentiouscompilationof anewregister earlier this year.
Though the main oppositionNDCsaidtheexercisewasunnecessary, it was defended by the ruling NPP. The number of voters is two million up from the 15 million captured for the 2016 election. There are a total of 33,000 polling stations as against 28,000 in 2016 dotted across the country. After voting, counting and collation takes place. The former at the polling station before certified figures are then transmitted to the constituency collation centers.
From that point, parliamentary results are declared. In the case of the presidential election, resultsarecountedandtransmittedtocollation centers from where there is an onward transfer to the national collation center, where the EC boss acts as a returning officer and thus the only person empowered by law to declare a president-elect.
Ghana operates the usual 50 per cent plus one rule for a candidate to be declared winner of a presidential poll, while the first past the post is used to determine a winner in all of the parliamentary contests.
If neither party wins more than 50 per cent of the votes, there would be second round of balloting to determine a winner.
Ghana has twice decided a presidential contest through second round vote – 2000 and 2008.
As expected, the build-up to today’s elections has not been a tea party. Though the campaignwasdominated by issuessuchas Ghana’s economy, infrastructure development, education, corruptionanddebtrelief, the leading candidates also threw verbal punches at each other. Akufo-Addo has been touting economic growth during his current four-year term in office as well as the streamlining of government services and implementation of free schooling for senior high school pupils hence a second term will lead to consolidation.
Since coming to power in 2017, he has presided over anaverageeconomic-growth rate of more than six per cent, boosted by a burgeoning oil industry and a slowdown in inflation to the lowest rates in at least six years.
The cedi has also had its most stable spellinmorethanadecade. Thatmarked a turnaround from the Mahama era, when growthslowedtotheweakestpaceinmore than two decades. Despite the economic gains under Akufo-Addo, most Ghanaians believe that there is still much to be done to curb inequality, improve living standards and create jobs.
Critics of the president also say he has failed to make good his campaign promises such as a pledge to bring a factory to every district, while the economy remains dogged by high public debt. But Akufo-Addo has promised to push ahead with a $17 billion programme to spur the economy’s post-pandemic recovery, improve social mobility and create more jobs if re-elected.
According to him, a second four-year term will lead to continuation of “all the strong work that is going into reconstructing oureconomyandlaying thefoundation for agriculture and for industry.”
Going into the polls, President Akufo- Addo appears to be certain of victory as he is of the view that Mahama struggled all through the campaigns to sell his manifesto to Ghanaians.
“Mahama’s campaign has fallen in the water. His campaign has landed in confusion, misrepresentations and outright fabrications. That is the campaign of JohnDramaniMahamatodayinGhana,” Akufo-AddosaidatarallyinAyawasoWest Wuogon constituency. He added that Mahama, who’s seeking reelection, cannot occupy the presidency with lies and fabrications.
“You cannot go to the presidency of Ghana with lies and fabrications. The Ghanaian people will not allow that to happen,” he said over Mahama’s claim that he started the Free SHS programme in 2015. Mahama is also banking on his track recordtoreturntopower.
He keeps reminding Ghanaians of the infrastructural projects, including roads, bridges, schools and hospitals, he realised during his presidency, promising do invest more in this area if re-elected.
His keystone campaign pledge is a $10 billion infrastructure plan dubbedthe “Big Push.” Hehasalsopromised toexpandthe freeschoolprogrammeandhealthbenefits.
The former president plans to build roads, dams and schools, and extend an airport and hospital, should he defeat President Akufo-Addo. Mahama also said he will ensure that half of Ghana’s cocoa output is processed domestically against 38 per cent at the moment. The West African nation is the world’s second-biggest producer of cocoa after Ivory Coast.
“We’ll be able to take care of social and economicinfrastructurewithoutnecessarily escalating debt. A fund will be created using proceeds from oil, Value Added Tax and annual budget funding, and many of the projects will pay for themselves over time,” he said.
Mahama also that he will engage with Ghana’s creditors to “reprofile” the nation’s debt, including the money owed to power producers, which he sees as the Achilles heel of the economy. “I hope that it won’t be necessary to go back to the IMF, but I won’t rule it out.
All cards are on the table,” Mahama said even as he claimedcredit forAkufo-Addo’s accomplishments, saying his administration laid the groundwork by taking tough decisions under theIMFprogrammeand ensuringthe development of two new oil fields.
His words: “Those revenues came, landed in the lap of this government. If Akufo-Addo had not squandered what he inherited, the economy would have been more resilient even after being confronted by the pandemic.”
Obasanjo calls for caution
Perhaps, the diatribe between the leading candidates prompted the appeal by a former Nigerian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, for the two major contending parties to show tolerance and abstain from conducts capable of discrediting the exercise.
In a letter to the Ghanaian parties, Obasanjo, a former chairman of the African Union (AU), particularly prodded the NPP and NDC to ensure peaceful, credible and transparent general elections.
He also enjoined the parties not to view eachother aspoliticalenemy butaspolitical opponent. Accordingtohim, arancour-free election in Ghana will help ensure the peace and stability of the country.
His letter read in part: “I write to you, leaders of the two mainpoliticalpartiesinGhana, to urge you to do all you can to ensure a peaceful conduct of the general election.
“My concern about the elections in Ghana is not only as an African but also because of our shared colonial history, our anthropological background and thefactthatIbeganmymilitary careerfrom Teshie, Ghana; and withoutthat, Iwould perhapsnothavebeen what I am today.
“As leaders of the two main political parties, this is the legacy you have been entrusted to preserve, heading into the elections. Your role is unique in that the NPP and NDC are the main players, have madesignificant contributions to the peace andstabilityof Ghana, andarevestedwith the capacity, influence and control to construct and shape national discussions and processessuchastheupcomingelections.”
Apparently responding to the appeal, President Akufo-Addo, on Friday, not only reiteratedhis commitmentto the peaceand stabilityof thecountrybutassuredGhanaians of his readiness to accept the verdict of the election.
Akufo-Addo, who spoke at the 2020 PeacePactceremonyinAccra, said:“Ihave said that we believe in elections, and I am happy togivemy word thatweshallaccept the verdict of the people of Ghana.
Above all, I pledge that the peace, unity and safety of Ghana will be our primary consideration. In previous occasions, I have held to mypart of the peace pact, and, on this third occasion as President of the Republic, I will do the same.”
The President added that he is representing a political party that is founded on the strong belief that Ghana is best governed underaconstitutionalarrangement that guarantees multi-parties.
“We believe in elections, we have always done and we, in the NPP, can safely claim without any fear of contradiction that every improvement that has brought more widespread credibility to our electoral process has been at our instigation.
“Webelieveinanelectoral process that is genuinely free and fair, and in which the people can have confidence. We believe in an electoral process in which the losers will feel they have been in a fairfight, andwouldwillingly congratulate the winners, and go back to regroup to seek more persuasive ways to convince the electorate.”
According to him, it is in the interest of the politicalpartiesin thecountry that there is no violence, tension, and a truly peaceful atmosphere throughout the country.
He explained that the best manifesto policies and promises will come to naught if there is no peace, adding that “you can even have a combination of the best policies, the brightest and most hardworking and incorruptible people to run the government, if there is no peace, you cannot deliver on your promises.”
Ontheprocessesleading toelections, he noted that the country has conducted the electoral process admirably so far, adding that in the midst of a global pandemic, the ElectoralCommissioncompiledacredible voters’ register, with the special voting process passing off peacefully as well. With the presidential poll expected to be close, a key figure would be head of Ghana’sEC, Mrs. Jean Mensa.
Thoughshe has pledged transparency measures, the opposition party faulted some decisions taken by the umpire ahead of the polls.
The NDC had criticized the electoral commission for printing in excess of 150,000 ballot papers at the blind side of political party agents, saying the ballot paperswerewithoutserialnumbersandthat theexcessballotpaperswereprinted atanother unit of the Assembly Press, which is headed by an appointee of the President.
But Mrs. Mensa, who wondered why the NDC would want to cause fear and panic and heighten tension in the lead up to the elections, said that operations of the commission are open and transparent.
She maintained that the EC is ready to conduct a credible process andassured all stakeholders in Ghana’s electoral process that each ballot paper printed for the elections will be accounted for. “Not one ballot paper will be included in a package that has not been accounted for. This will not happen.
Our processes are open, transparent and robust and will remain so,” she said. Sheexplainedthattheprinting of ballot papers in excess of five per cent to cater for instance of spoilt ballots is a standard practice by the commission.
Its informational materials are bearing the necessity of wearing masks and maintaining social distancing at polling centers. No doubt, the stakes are high as the outcome of today’s elections in Ghana, which prides herself as a stable democracy with peaceful transitions of power, will determinewhogetstositinthenextparliament and to occupy the Flagstaff House – the country’s seat of the president.