Opinions Tue, 10 Jan 2017

Did President Mahama lose because he was a former Veep?

Ghana's democratic credentials were given a further shot in the arm with President John Mahama conceding defeat at the polls as the first incumbent Head of State to lose elections in the Fourth Republic, and particularly in our political history. This must also be a great sign for Africa's democratic strides in spite of The Gambia's Yahyah Jammeh's December 'April Fool' to the world.

Following the defeat of President Mahama and the National Democratic Congress (NDC), party gurus are looking for reasons for their heavy defeat and ways to reorganise for the future. Several issues have already come up with the blame game at play. While their 13-member committee may be looking at strategic and operational factors, I am looking at something of interest to political scientists and students of Ghana's politics.

History proves Veeps’ difficulty to keep power

History is replete with leaders like President Mahama failing to keep the power they got after replacing their 'bosses' who exited through death or resignation. Indeed, it is not easy for vice-presidents to grab power as president.

In the US, nine times in their history, vice-presidents have acceded to the office of president due to the death or resignation of the president. They included John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford. Out of the nine, Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, and Lyndon Johnson went on to win election as Presidents in their own right.

Interestingly, most vice-presidents who become presidents in their own right fail at the polls in their bid to retain power. At least there are some African cases to prove this. This cannot be ruled out in the case of President Mahama who was the deputy to the late President JEA Mills who didn't end his full term at the presidency. In 2012, after serving the remaining five months of the late president, President Mahama retained power for his party and became the second Vice-President in Ghana (also from the NDC) to assume the helms of affairs of the country.

Death of African leaders

The trend has been that several of the leaders who replaced their presidents got ditched by the electorate. In some cases, they win either by sympathy votes or on their own merit but fall when they want their rule to be extended. According to a 2012 BBC article, 10 African leaders died in office between 2008 and 2012 compared to only three in the rest of the world. In most cases in Africa, replacing the late leaders became a ding-dong affair as there was power play.

After the mess that surrounded the illness and death of Nigeria’s President Yar’Adua, writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka sent a simple message to African leaders: Political succession should not be a matter of “do or die” politics. Political succession in Africa is another topic for another day.

In 2012 alone, the presidents of Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi and Guinea-Bissau died, leaving their deputies (vice-presidents). Out of this list, it is only the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Deputy, Mr Hailemariam Desalegn, who is in power and yet to be tested at the polls after four years.

Malawi's Joyce Banda could only continue the unfinished term of the late President Mutherika. Her attempt at winning the 2014 elections on her own as President and the leader of the PP, which she formed, didn't succeed.

In fact, when we look at the pre-2012 list in Africa, we can mention President Rupia Banda of Zambia who replaced the late President Levy Mwanawasa in 2008, but like Joyce Banda, failed in 2011 to be a President in his own right as the late President Michael Sata snatched the power from him. Sata later died in his first term to be replaced by President Edgar Lungu, who was the Minister of Justice. Vice-President Scott, whose parents were Europeans, not a born Zambian, was barred constitutionally from acceding to the presidency.

Then we can mention President Goodluck Jonathan whose second term attempt was scuttled by the APC's President Buhari. President Mahama has been described as having a similar fate as President Jonathan in some ways as they both faced very trying terms after rising to the presidency on the death of their bosses and failing in hard fought elections to win second terms.

The reasons for this trend

Analysts have tried to put a finger on what normally goes wrong for the veeps who become presidents to fail. It is often believed that the veeps who become incumbents take office and shove the teams of their late or resigned bosses aside and bring along new sets of staff and the tendency to throw away some of the workable ideas. This may create misgivings even within their own parties. This may be part of the reasons they struggle to keep the power.

The trend is not about the veeps not winning elections, but the fact that they often may struggle with keeping the pace of their predecessors. Currently, Venezuela is struggling under the leadership of Nicolás Maduro, the former Vice-President, after the demise of Hugo Chávez.

It is also believed that sometimes, the larger populace may prefer the 'original' to the 'duplicate; that is, people may have preferred the presidents to their veeps. However, some opine that the core reason could be individual leadership styles and the teams they work with.

Columnist: Kojo Ackaah-Kwarteng