Did the NDC send "shock and awe" down the spine of NPP?
It is perhaps the loudest message yet to the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) that many more Ghanaians are unsatisfied with the Kufuor administration’s running of the country.
True, no administration anywhere in the world, not even under the most autocratic leadership where everybody is supposed to conform can expect total support.
And some protestors Weekend Agenda spoke to said they joined the march not necessarily because they share the National Democratic Congress’ (NDC) views on most national issues.
Rather they joined because they saw the protest march as the most “effective opportunity” to remind the NPP of its promises in the run up to the 2000 general elections.
The NPP promised to abolish “Cash and carry”, make basic schooling “truly” free and minimise the burden borne by ordinary Ghanaians.
But two and half years in power, fuel prices have doubled, transport fares and cost of utilities like electricity and water have all gone up. Yet “Cash and carry” has not been replaced with the proposed National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
A vice chairman of the NDC, Lee Ocran told Joy FM that the march was like a “carnival”. And carnival it was.
Francis Agbotse, one of two NDC MPs who rushed quickly to Parliament after the demonstration at 11 a.m. told the House: “In fact, the march of survival has revived us.”
History will tell whether it was a march of revival of the NDC or the survival of the ordinary Ghanaian.
Prof. Joseph Ayee, Dean, Faculty of Social Studies, University of Ghana, Legon and Prosper Nii Nortey Addo a research fellow of the Accra-based African Security Dialogue and Research (ASDR) said the peaceful nature of the demonstration is a feather in the cap of Ghana’s democracy.
On a scale of 1 to 10, the Police Service has marked it as “very close to 10” in terms of orderliness and comportment of the protestors and ordinary bystanders. No violent incident was recorded.
“The march was a face-saving event for the NDC,” was how Prof. Ayee also a political science lecturer described Tuesday’s event.
That assessment ties in with the NDC flagbearer, Prof. John Atta Mills’ own comments at the rally. He told the party’s supporters, who made it through the march to the Accra Hearts of Oak Training grounds and the BBC on Tuesday that the turn out should remind opponents of the heavily fractious party that the NDC is still strong and alive.
He even predicted an NDC victory at the polls in 2004.
That might be an exaggeration given the string of losses the party has suffered at the hands of the NPP in just the first quarter of 2003 when most economic indicators were against the ruling government - Fuel prices went up by 90.4 per cent in January. Water and electricity rates went up last March.
Both Prof. Ayee and Addo maintain that the demonstration is a clear indicator that the NDC remains the most formidable opposition to the NPP. Though Ayee said the relatively large turn out could not be an indicator that the NDC will win the 2004 elections. But “the NPP cannot take them for granted,” he said.
Addo hoped Tuesday’s experience would inform the NDC how to handle political opponents when it ever comes back to power.
Addo said the demonstration; the first by any minority party against the government is a pointer that the ruling party is “accommodating” to opposing views.
He explained that venting one’s frustrations in the form of peaceful demonstrations is good because it allows people who feel marginalised to be heard loud and clear. “It makes the people to feel good.” In many respects the demo is an important achievement for the NDC and just as much for the ruling NPP. Since the party’s defeat it has never presented such a united front to either the party’s supporters or the general Ghanaian population.
Prof. Ayee is sceptical about the seemingly solid front the three men: Mills, Asamoah and Rawlings presented on Tuesday.
“I don’t think they have resolved all their divisive differences,” Prof. Ayee said.
At the last national congress to elect a flagbearer, factions in the party engaged each other in violent confrontations.
Abraham Kofi Asante, an ex-MDC MP for Amenfi West resigned from Parliament early this year. The eloquent Kofi Asante, also a former NDC Shadow Minister of Energy said he resigned from Parliament in protest against how he was maltreated at the congress.
In the eyes of the public, the jury is out, but the tussle between Mills and Asamoah on one hand and Asamoah and Rawlings on the other may seem to have produced a sensible compromise. It is unclear yet whether Rawlings has accepted to stay in the background to allow Mills to market himself. For now it looks like it is.
Rawlings was essentially buried behind Mills and Asamoah for most part of the two-hour march on the streets of the national capital. That might not be completely true, some have argued.
It has been argued, however, that Rawlings was forced behind the flagbearer, Asamoah and some of the elected executives of the party for security concerns. This may also not be entirely correct. Rawlings withdrew to the back of the improvised stage as soon as he addressed the crowd to allow Mills and Asamoah to tell the excited supporters that they had succeeded in reminding the ruling NPP and Ghanaians that the NDC will never die.
But Rawlings may not be able to stay behind for long. Indeed, there were as many people wearing T-shirts bearing Rawlings’s face as Mills’ T-shirts. Rawlings remains the NDC’s crowd “puller”. Prof. Ayee said, “Rawlings has a character which will always attract crowd.”
Weekend Agenda heard many protestors chanting: “Jerry we’ll die for you, Jerry we’ll die for you …” in Pidgin English, Ga, Twi and Ewe.
Prof. Ayee said very few people would have turned up for the march if the thrust was only on alleged persecution of NDC sympathisers.
According to the political science lecturer, the basic issue underlining the protest is the stagnating economy. The economy is not any worse than when the Kufuor government took over in 2001 but the administration has got to fix it sooner than later if the NPP wants to maintain its edge over the NDC, he observed.
Aside, the government must be transparent [in its dealings.] It must also demonstrate that it is capable of living frugally; that it is living within its means by also tightening its belt.
“At the time they took over, the economy was so devastated that recovery can only be slow and gradual. But I think they are on course and they need to explain that to the people,” Prof. Ayee said.