How The NPP Can Adapt To Primary System

Thu, 26 Jun 2014 Source: Abrefah, Kwame Attakorah

For Selecting Its Flag-Bearar And Stop The Party’s Bleeding…

The delegate system for electing presidential candidates is popular in Ghana because the Westminster model of democracy that the British bequeathed to Ghana required that the leader of the party/alliance with the majority of seats in parliament formed the government. Therefore, the ability to maintain party discipline, confidence of the legislature and control over the party machinery were considered key prerequisites for a successful party leadership. In view of this, an electoral college consisting of parliamentarians, representatives from constituencies and ex-officio members is mandated to elect a leader in the delegate system.

This system allowed the NPP to bring together delegates from across the country to determine the direction of the party, its priorities, and to select presidential candidate for general elections. In my opinion, the delegate system served the NPP well because it recognized that there were hierarchies and distinct interest groups within the party who were relentlessly seeking to influence the direction of the party. In view of this, party elites were compelled to mediate between and reconcile the competing camps to achieve party unity and ensure fair representation of all the factions in the leadership structure of the party.

By 2007, however, the delegate system had run its course and the flag-bearer race in that year had exposed its inherent weaknesses. With 17 remarkable candidates vying for attention and recognition, it was natural for acrimony and bickering to ensue. Further, mediation, which hitherto had been used in the delegate system to bring together different factions in the party, was no longer tenable in our winner takes all presidential system. Thus, the mistrust and hostility resulting from the 2007 flag-bearer race polarized the party and created factionalism.

Consequently, the party leadership at the time, in their finite wisdom, adopted the primary system to elect presidential candidates in the hope that the ghost of 2007 would be buried forever. The primary system was also adopted to empower the grassroots to participate in the leadership selection process and to take power away from party elites.

The first presidential primary in 2010 was a resounding success because: it allowed the party to select the most popular candidate who was most likely to win the general election; the margin of victory by Nana gave him clear legitimacy and a mandate to represent the NPP; furthermore, it gave Nana the public visibility required before the general elections and helped Nana build the party’s platform for the general elections.

In my humble opinion, the 2012 presidential campaign was the best ever by the NPP because it was issue focused and grassroots based. For example, the free education campaign message caught on like a bush fire in the harmattan. Some might disagree with me based on the outcome of the election, but my focus here is on how we should manage the upcoming primary.

Our party is gearing up for another primary this year and from the dynamics at play, it might be a destructive experience if measures are not proactively taken to manage it. The tone of the campaign so far indicates that there is going to be a needless mudslinging and bickering between the camps of eminent leaders in our party. As the popular saying goes “when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers”. In essence, in this unfolding saga, it is the NPP brand that stands to lose if we passively watch things play out.

I believe that we can ensure successful primary elections if we take the lessons from the 2010 primaries to guide our actions in the upcoming primaries. In my opinion, the 2010 primaries established that: primary elections are very expensive to run and they divert resources from crucial general elections; primaries tend to undermine party structures because personalities rather than the party brand become the center of attention; and primary election campaigns tend to reduce the power and influence of elected party officials. Instead, unelected party members who are connected to individual campaigns tend to influence the direction of the party. Also, unlike the delegate system where party elites used negotiation, mediation, consultation and compromise to choose a leader, the primary system fosters competition between personalities, and incites internal strife and negative emotions that threaten the party’s cohesiveness and very existence.

Given the aforementioned lessons from the 2010 primaries, it is incumbent upon Chairman Afoko and his team to ensure that a healthy competition plays out in an environment of constructive conflict in this year’s primary. Achieving successful primary elections requires attention to process and the ability to set clear, realistic and achievable outcomes with strategies to achieve them.

I am therefore proposing the following outcomes and strategies for consideration:

Outcome (definition: desired change resulting from specific activities) Strategy (or activities) Indicators of success

Direct scarce resources from the primary towards the general elections 1. Hold the primary within 3 months to limit its financial cost

2. Set a cap on how much money each campaign can spend on the primaries

3. Create an inter-campaign working committee to proactively resolve issues and build trust to reduce the incidental cost of the primary 1. When less than 25% of campaign resources are spent on primaries

2. When candidates declare their expenses in accordance with the established rules

3. When campaigns can mutually identify wasteful expenses and work together to curtail them

Maintain party unity and cohesiveness 1. Develop a code of conduct to guide the electioneering activities

2. Impose fines on campaigns that violate the code of conduct

3. Form an impartial body to monitor compliance with the code of conduct

4. Form a committee consisting of delegates from each campaign and chaired by 3 respected elders of the party to run the primary

5. Train campaign directors and officers on acceptable conduct

6. Create a plan of action to engage the grassroots

7. Ensure all groups affiliated with the campaigns receive official recognition and sign the code of conduct

8 hold early primary to minimize the emotional and incidental strain on the party 1. When all the campaigns are fully trained and understand acceptable behavior

2. When fines become a deterrent to negative and unethical conduct in the campaigns

3. When campaigns appreciate that they will be held accountable for unethical conduct

4. When national elected officers are seen as non-aligned and impartial in the primary process. When key decision regarding the primary are made by the campaigns fostering trust, accountability and minimizing cost

5. When campaigns collaborate to resolve issues as they arise

6. For party leaders to interact with grassroots

7. Appoint and train engagement champions in each constituency to help create culture of respect and tolerance in the party

8. When the party and national officers can hold affiliated groups accountable for their actions.

Build a platform for the general elections 1. Generate and sustain excitement by regionalizing the primary process

2. Conduct debates across the regions to test out the party’s manifesto

3. Use town hall meetings to present alternative policies to the government

1. When the campaigns become decentralized and grassroots focused

2. When new ideas can withstand public scrutiny or be refined to include our manifesto

3. When feedback from the town-hall meetings indicate that the issues discussed reflect the aspirations of the people

Educate the public on the primary system by distinguishing it from the NDC’s national delegate system, which is elitist. 1. Media campaign explaining the primary system--NPP is a democratic party. Grassroots decide who leads the party unlike the NDC where a few big men get together to share power among themselves. 1. When the public understands that the conflict arising from the primary is not an indication of dysfunctional political party, but an integral part of the primary system-democracy at work.

Evaluate and monitor progression of outcomes Set up a monitoring and evaluation unit to measure progress

The national executive should be guided the foundational principle of respect: where each campaign feels valued and heard; accountability where people are held responsible for their actions; integrity where people behave ethically and excellence where innovation and continuous improvement guide their actions. It is my hope that we can minimize the propagation of falsehood, defamation, hate speech and intimidation in the party with the implementation of a concrete plan of action using the aforementioned core values as our guiding principles.

By Kwame Abrefah, Canada

Columnist: Abrefah, Kwame Attakorah