Ghana returned to multi-party democracy under the Fourth Republican Constitution in 1992. Either by design, coincident, or accident, Ghana chose a quadrennial electoral cycle not only similar to but also fall in the same electoral year as that of the US.
That is, both the US and Ghana hold presidential elections in the same year and just one month apart (the US in the first week of November and the first week in December for Ghana of the election year).
The similarities do not end there because the two leading political parties in the US and Ghana are allied with each other [the Democratic Party of US and National Democratic Congress (NDC) of Ghana on one side and the Republican Party of US and the National Patriotic Party (NPP) of Ghana on the other]. These are not all.
The choices the electorates make in terms of which party’s presidential candidate wins the presidency in both the US and Ghana have mirrored each other since 1992.
The above have given the leadership, supporters and sympathizers of the two main political parties in Ghana (NDC and NPP) almost a sense of entitlement to a presidential election victory once the winner of the US presidential election is called, depending on which candidate and the party won in the US.
This article is an analysis of the reality or falsehood of this apparent symbiotic or symmetric political relationship between the US and Ghana for nearly three decades.
A recast of presidential election results in the US and Ghana for the sake of the discourse, though these are not new to Ghanaians are provided. In 1992 and 1996 Bill Clinton, the Democratic candidate won the presidency in the US whilst Jerry Rawlings of the NDC won in Ghana.
Then in 2000 and 2004 George Bush Junior, the Republican candidate won and John Agyekum Kufour, the NPP candidate also won in Ghana. Followed by Barrack Obama for the Democrats in 2008 and 2012 so were Prof Attah-Mills and John Mahama of NDC in 2008 and 2012 respectively. Finally, Donald Trump for the Republicans in 2016, so was Nana Akufo-Addo for the NPP in 2016 and Joe Biden has just won it for the Democrats in 2020.
Ghana’s presidential election is scheduled for December 7, 2020, and with Joe Biden’s victory on 3 November, there is a debate in Ghana as to whether the Ghanaian electorate will follow their counterparts in the US and replicate the electoral fortunes of the Democratic Party by electing NDC’s presidential candidate, John Mahama on December 7, 2020.
Whilst the two leading parties in Ghana as expected have always held contrasting views on the developing US/Ghana presidential election results ‘customary practice’ as to which political party’s candidate wins, the party in opposition, NDC claims the results of the impending presidential election in Ghana will follow the established custom, the party in power, NPP disputes that.
In other words, the two parties themselves believe the similarities only when it suits them and therefore there is no consensus amongst them on this matter. So, it is no surprise that the opposition NDC are hoping that the Biden victory is a good omen for their presidential candidate, John Mahama.
At the same time, the ruling NPP says the US presidential election results will have nothing to do with Ghana’s on December 7 (see, “There's no Similarity between 2020 elections of US and Ghana – Oppong Nkrumah”, Ghanaweb, October 29, 2020; “Flashback: Change is Coming; Trump has prepared the way – NPP” and “Donald Trump is leaving power with Akufo-Addo - Margaret Ansei”, both Ghanaweb, November 7, 2020).
What exactly is the reality and is it true that where the US goes, Ghana follows? For 2020, it even gets exciting because NDC further claims that because both Biden and Mahama chose women as their running mates for the first time, the odds favour them.
I am not a political scientist or analyst. In fact, I only started paying attention to the Fourth Republican election after the 2008 elections in Ghana, though I have been observing US presidential elections since my secondary school days at Augusco and Persco.
However, a careful study of the presidential election issues and discourses in the US and Ghana are not the same despite the results of party presidential candidates going the same way in both countries for the past three decades. For lack of time, I will concentrate more on Ghana.
A critical examination of the political discourses relating to presidential elections in Ghana and the results show that the developing customary practice is more likely to be a change of the ruling party after every eight years and not presidents. That is, two terms for each party and you are out.
This is supported by the results of the 2016 presidential election. NDC had been the ruling party for eight years but president Mahama had been in power for only four and half years, having completed the unexpired six months term of the late President Atta-Mills (who sadly passed away in office) prior to winning the 2012 presidential election. Had the practice being eight years for each president, then Mahama would have won a second term.
In fact, Mahama and NDC made the argument that each president since the Fourth Republic had been given two terms so the electorates should also give him a second term but they were wrong and Ghanaians booted the party out of the office to become the first president not to win a second term in the Fourth Republic. I am aware that, a single example could be the exception and not the norm, but I am also confident that it was not an accident.
Another reason or difference in Ghana is that corruption is a strong factor in determining which party wins the presidential election. Often, in the first term, the party in power tries to minimise acts of corruption but once they win a second term, the anti-corruption gloves are discarded and it’s free for all, knowing very well that they might not win a third term so they take advantage to amass wealth as much as they could at the expense of the state.
Therefore, second term election campaigns in Ghana are less devoid of corruption allegations. On the other hand, by the third term election campaign, the opposition party had exposed the numerous corrupt acts and painted the ruling party as the most corrupt in Ghana’s history.
Not only that but government appointees, party officials and cronies openly display ostentatious lifestyles in the eyes of the public, so the electorates have had enough of their thievery and arrogance and are ready to kick them out.
The above is particularly true of the 2020 election campaign. Though the public perception of political corruption is high in Ghana, corruption is not a major issue for the ongoing presidential campaign of the two leading parties (NDC and NPP).
This is because the opposition NDC lost the 2016 elections on corruption and therefore have no moral authority to campaign on corruption after just four years. In fact, their presidential candidate has corruption allegations hanging over him regarding his alleged involvement in the AirBus scandal. On the other hand, the ruling NPP also has some corruption issues and are therefore scared of making corruption one of their main campaign issues.
However, should NPP win a second term on December 7, their public display of opulence will be at a crescendo and not only will the NDC make corruption their main campaign issue in 2024 but also the public would have been fed up and ready to give NPP a kick in the arse for being too corrupt.
To some extent, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah may be right in saying that there is no similarity between the 2020 elections of the US and Ghana because the conditions are not the same, though some issues may be similar.
The first is COVID-19. Loser, President Trump claimed COVID19 was a hoax and refused to order a lockdown and listen to scientific advice. On the contrary, he actively encouraged business as usual and open society as well as people not to wear facemasks.
The opposite was in Ghana where President Akufo-Addo is a world-acclaimed leader on COVID-19 management.
So the COVID-19 hoax and the monumental failure of Trump to manage the pandemic with its catastrophic economic impact on the US citizens contributed to his defeat on November 3. That may not be the case in Ghana on December 7, 2020.
Again, the election in the US was more about the defeat or survival of President Trump. His unique leadership style of negative, racist, isolationist and dividing impacts resulted in independent and Republicans with conscience deserting him and causing his defeat.
In Ghana, President Akufo-Addo’s leadership approach has not been divisive or isolationist. Nana Akufo-Addo is not a campaign issue and even if he is, then it is positive for his party and his candidacy, unlike Trump. As a result, for some voters in the Us election, it was any candidate but Trump. That is not the case in Ghana.
On the economy, Trump would have had a landslide had it not been for the pandemic and his deliberate failure to manage it because prior to COVID-19, the US economy was very strong and had created high numbers of jobs. But all that crashed and disappeared under COVID-19.
Had Trump managed COVID-19 well, he could have been forgiven for the collapse of the economy since this was a global problem with many job losses across all major economies. Of course, Ghana’s economy did not escape the COVID-19 impact but the good stewardship of president Akufo-Addo could benefit his party and his candidacy in the December 7 presidential election.
In conclusion, though there is developing customary practice in the presidential election results in the US and Ghana over the last three decades, there are different reasons behind the choices the electorates in both countries make.
Again, in Ghana, the electorates change parties and not candidates after two terms because they become fed up with corruption by the ruling party and change the party in office.
Last but not the least, 2020 has been an extraordinary year and impacted the US presidential election for the wrong reasons, it may not necessarily have the same effect on Ghana’s presidential election.
For these reasons, anyone who thinks that because Biden, the Democratic candidate won the 2020 US presidential election and therefore it will follow that Mahama, the NDC presidential candidate will win on December 7, 2020 may be far-fetched from reality but time will time.