By: Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
Ghana goes to the polls on Wednesday December 7, 2016 to elect president and parliamentarians for the next four years. This would be the seventh general elections since Ghana returned to multi-party democracy under the Fourth Republican Constitution in 1992. As usual, the contest is between the candidates of the two leading political parties of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDC) and the main opposition, New Patriotic Party (NPP). This article, an update on the earlier one in April 2016 is analysis of factors that could affect the chances of the incumbent President Mahama who is seeking a second four-year term as allowed under the constitution and Nana Akufo-Addo who is also making a third consecutive and probably final attempt at the presidency (see, “Will Akufo-Addo be Third Time Lucky or Mahama Secure a Second Term?”, Ghanaweb, April 18, 2016).
Let me make it clear that this is not to predict who will win the presidential election because it is not an empirical research or evidence-based opinion poll but a review of historical and a number of events since April 2016, especially but not exclusively, Brexit and the election Trump against all odds.
Past presidential election results in Ghana show a pattern of two terms and change of government. What is not clear is whether the results of six elections could statistically significant to draw valid and definite conclusion or inference of custom or practice being established. One cannot be sure whether the two-terms and you are out is applicable to a candidate or party. If it’s the candidate, then NDC may be right in saying that both ex-presidents Rawlings and Kufuor had two terms and therefore Mahama also deserves a second term. However, if it is applicable to the ruling party then NDC has had its two-terms and time for a new party. Then, there is the question of performance and whether voters’ decisions in the past are based on performance or something else? NPP claim ex-president Kufuor’s achievements were unprecedented, yet his party lost the 2008 elections (both presidential and parliamentary). If this argument is anything to go by, then, irrespective Mahama’s performance, he may not survive. From the above, the odds favour Nana Akufo-Addo and NPP on historical evidence, though not definitive.
Another historical factor is consecutive third term victory in two-term limited political office. In true democracies with this system and bi-partisan domination such as Ghana and the US wining third consecutive term by one party is uncommon. For example, in the US it happened only twice in the 20th Century. President Franklin D Roosevelt won four consecutive terms (1933–1945) for the Democrats probably due to the Second World War which enabled him to contest more than the maximum two terms. The Republicans won the presidency on three consecutive terms (1981-1993) by Roland Reagan’s two terms followed immediately by his Vice-President, George Bush Snr’s one term). As we witnessed in the November election, the Democrats had the best opportunity of securing the White House on a third consecutive term but it eluded them. No party in Ghana has secured a third consecutive presidential victory since 1992 and it would be a first should NDC win the presidency on December 7, 2016. Again, on this subject, the odds do not favour NDC.
Following the unexpected election of Trump on the ticket of the Republican Party, NPP politicians have claimed that Trump election is in their favour because whenever there is a Republican in the White House, NPP wins the presidency and equally a Democratic President coincides with NDC presidency. (Clinton-Rawlings, Bush-Kufuor and Mills/Mahama-Obama). Therefore, it will be Trump-Akufo-Addo era in 2016. Is this analogy not too simplistic as it could be the result of same electoral year and no direct connection between the results of the two presidential elections across the Atlantic? In fact, others argue that had the results (not the outcome) of the US elections in 2000 and 2016 that elected George Bush and Trump respectively been repeated in Ghana, the late Mills and Mahama and not Kufuor and Akufo-Addo would be winners because of the different systems (the Electoral College in the US and 50% plus one or popular vote in Ghana). Notwithstanding the difference in the selection system, the historical evidence favours NPP.
The last historical factor is the “third time lucky”. NPP members, supporters and sympathisers refer to the late president Mills winning the presidency on his third attempt and are hope that history will repeat itself and deliver victory to Nana Akufo-Addo on his third attempt. Is such reference credible? Not necessarily but the fact that after every 8 years Ghanaians elect a candidate of a different party to lead them, it a reasonable inference to draw.
The economy is the one of the most important factors that usually voters base their voting preference on. The fact is that, despite the huge achievement in infrastructure development by the Mahama government, the economy is still facing major problems. All the economic indicators (both macro and micro) are below expectations. For example, inflation, interest rates, utility prices are very high. For the ordinary Ghanaian, it is difficult for them to see the direct benefits of roads, health facilities, community day schools if cost of living is very high or unemployed. However, voters do not make decisions on who to vote for purely on economics but other factors such as political allegiance. In a developing country such as Ghana, other considerations including religion and ethnicity influence voting decisions. On this score card, the infrastructure development may slightly favour NDC.
As concluded in the April article, “dumsor” would be Mahama’s Waterloo and I still believe so though dumsor has almost disappeared in Ghana. However, the damage to especially small businesses, the disruption to daily life and inconvenience caused by dumsor are still fresh in the minds of some voters and Mahama could be punished for how he handled the power crisis. In fact, had Mahama resolved dumsor earlier the economic indicators would have been far better than they are today and therefore if voters vent their anger on him because of the impact of dumsor, he has himself to blame. However, NPP can no longer use dumsor as a political campaign tool against NDC. The voters who are most likely to make voting decisions on dumsor are also most likely to be those who want change. Others will forgive Mahama and vote for him.
The impact of the smaller parties will also determine who wins the presidency. In a situation where the electorates are almost divided equally between NDC and NPP, the performance of the smaller will be critical in the outcome. Remember, the difference between President Mahama and Nana Akufo-Addo in 2012 was only 310,286 votes. In such political environment requiring 50% plus one vote to secure victory, the winning strategy must be gaining most votes. Surprisingly, NPP’s strategy is to reduce its main opponent’s votes. I say so because of NPP’s tacit support for the presidential candidates of minor parties, especially Dr Nduom to be on the ballot paper. That was a monumental political suicide because had Nduom been disqualified his supporters would have blamed the NDC and president Mahama for the disqualification and majority would have voted for Akufo-Addo. This because most of those who would vote for candidates of the smaller candidates also want change and that would have improved NPP’s chances of outright first round victory.
NPP supported the inclusion of the candidates of the smaller parties because the party believes they will take votes from NDC. In fact, that is miscalculation because with the exception of Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings, the rest have participated in previous elections without any significant damage to NDC. Konadu’s impact on NDC would be insignificant. Moreover, Nduom’s support in the swing region of Central may be restricted to his home constituency of Komenda areas though he could gain some votes in metropolitan and urban areas from mostly educated and independent voters who would have voted for NPP if Nduom was not on the ballot.
Again, NPP missed a great chance to form strong alliance with most the smaller parties in case of a second round, had they been disqualified, though NPP’s support could also inure to their advantage but not as effective as it would have been had the candidates of the smaller parties were disqualified. In the event of a second round, with the alliance between Progressive People’s Party (PPP) and People’s National Congress (PNC) it would be interesting which of the two leading candidates they will support. PPP is most likely to support Akufo-Addo whilst PNC is may opt to support President Mahama. The smaller parties are most likely to hurt NDC more than NPP as most have social democratic ideology and National Democratic Party (NDP) is a break away from NDC. However, in the event of a second round, President Mahama could use his incumbency advantage to secure the support of most of smaller parties.
The advantage or abuse of incumbency will be a major factor, though the trend is changing as evident in Ghana, Nigeria and just last week in Gambia. However, in the case of Ghana though incumbent parties have lost elections, this is the first time an incumbent president is contesting for his party in a third consecutive presidential election. For this reason, it’s not possible to speculate on the effect of incumbency advantage but from the evidence on the grounds, it could favour president Mahama.
Party unity is another factor. It is generally said that “opposition don’t win elections - government lose elections”. Often such governments are divided and the opposition is more unified. In the case of Ghana, the ruling party, NDC is more united than the opposition party, NPP though both parties have a number of their members who have resigned and standing as independents against official party parliamentary candidates. On party unity, the NDC has advantage over NPP and that may affect both the presidential and parliamentary results.
The last factor is the opinion polls and predictions since April 2016. Most of them, predict an NPP victory but interestingly they also foresee a second round because the predicted percentage win for NPP is below the 50% plus one vote required to avoid a second round. For example, both the UK based Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) and Business Monitor International (BMI) Research have predicted first round victories for NPP but below the requisite 50% plus one vote. Some Ghanaian institutions and prophets have predicted outright first round win for NPP. Only Ben Ephson has predicted one touch victory for NDC.
The outcome of United Kingdom EU referendum on June 23, 2016 now popularly referred to as Brexit and Trump’s shock victory on November 8, 2016 contrary to all but a few predictions should be a warning to both NPP and NDC. First, they should disregard all the prophecies because God is not a registered voter in Ghana. We do not live in Biblical times and therefore God does not select presidents in democratic elections but registered voters who actually cast their votes during elections. I believe that God has given voters the freedom to make their own decisions. Finally, most, if not all including TB Joshua and Owusu-Bempa are false prophets.
Though one must be cautious in dismissing the recent evidence based opinion polls because unlike the UK and the US, Ghana is not experiencing the anti-immigration, anti-establishment, nationalistic, Islamophobia and the racist sentiments sweeping across Europe and the US that accounted for the unexpected results in the UK referendum and the US elections. Thank God, Austria’s ant-immigration, anti-EU, Islamophobia, racist and far right Freedom Party leader, Norbert Hofer failed to win today’s rerun presidential election. However, the fact is that both the EIU and BMI predictions were not based on empirical research but historical and sometimes anecdotes or hear say. For these reasons, any party that rests its hopes on them could be in for a shock.
In conclusion, whatever happens on Wednesday December 7, 2016, President Mahama stands to make history either as the first president to serve only one term and the shortest if he loses or the first to win a third consecutive term for his party and most likely to be the longest ever president under the Fourth Republic if he wins. From the above unscientific review, the odds favour NPP but as the saying goes, oppositions don’t win elections, Mahama and NDC must first give victory away and that is not going to be on a silver platter. My guess is, any of the two candidates can win. The prerequisite being the Electoral Commission organising free, fair and transparent elections. Good luck to President Mahama and Nana Akufo-Addo.
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