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Presidential ticket: The value of a running mate

Jane Naana Opoku Agyeman New NDC's Vice-presidential candidate, Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang

Wed, 15 Jul 2020 Source: Terry Mante

The nomination of Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang by former President John Mahama to be his running mate for Ghana’s upcoming presidential elections has been seen as novel, being the first time a woman has been chosen as vice presidential nominee for a major political party in Ghana.

Article 60(1) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana stipulates that the Vice-President “shall perform such functions as may be assigned to him by this Constitution or by the President.”

Apart from the Vice President’s membership of the National Security Council and Cabinet as well as assuming the President’s role in the event of his absence from the jurisdiction, removal from office, resignation or death, the Constitution does not clearly specify duties for the Vice President.

Essentially, the impact of the Vice-President on governance is only as useful as the President makes them.

Balancing the ticket

In American politics, the running mate was widely perceived as a person who brought a balance to the presidential ticket and fills the gap in the frontrunner.

Normally, the balance would be geographic, ideological, racial, ethnic or expertise. President John F. Kennedy from northeastern Massachusetts balanced his ticket with Lyndon B. Johnson, from the southern state of Texas. Southern conservative Jimmy Carter chose a northern liberal Walter Mondale to be his running mate and vice president while Barack Obama chose Joe Biden among other things to make up for his limited experience in foreign policy.

Apart from balancing the ticket, most vice presidents often white elephants, since all executive powers are exercised by the presidents. Depending on the chemistry between the two, the skills of a vice president can be harnessed or otherwise. Former President Rawlings because of his personal problems with his vice, Kow Nkesen Arkaah caused an amendment to Article 201 of the Constitution to allow the president to appoint the chairman for the Police Council. “As may be assigned by the president” means that president can make the office of the vice president a dummy office if there is no good chemistry between them.

Contemporary events show that Office of Chief of Staff has become even more powerful than the vice president which should not be so. The reason might be that in the choosing the vice president what dominates are convenience and expediency but not competency. And as someone has said perhaps the choice is only relevant when crossing the bridge but when you finish crossing it becomes of no use. It has become like the canoe which is only relevant when crossing a river or lake.

Balance to partnership

In the USA, powerful senators and governors who became vice presidents often felt left out of the loop. The misery of American vice presidents remained until President Bill Clinton shifted the paradigm from balance to partnership with his choice of Al Gore as Vice President. Gore had more influence on policy than any other vice president prior to the Clinton presidency. Under President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney was even more influential than Al Gore was. Barack Obama also forged a very cordial and close partnership with Vice President Biden, with the duo often referring to each other as brothers.

Ghana’s Vice-presidents

The first time Ghana had a vice president was during the Third Republic when President Hilla Liman served from 1979 to 1981. Liman, a native of Upper West Region town of Gwollu balanced his ticket with Vice President Joseph de Graft-Johnson who was a southerner from Cape Coast.

Under the Fourth Republic, President Jerry Rawlings, an aggressive military officer from Keta in the Volta Region balanced his ticket with running mates who were more moderate in their character and outlook – first with Kow Arkaah and later John Atta Mills, both from the Central Region of Ghana.

The unique thing about Rawlings was that he chose to balance his ticket with people whose character and personality were opposite his. Although both Volta and Central Regions are in the south of Ghana, the selection of the men from Central Region also helped balance his ticket with Akan representation. The Akan group is the largest ethnic group in Ghana.

President John Kufuor’s selection of Aliu Mahama also expressed balance, with Kufuor hailing from the Akan group and Aliu from the northern Dagomba ethnic group.

Just as the choice of Gore by Clinton did, running mate choices made by John Atta Mills and Nana Akufo-Addo in 2008 also increased the significance of the running mate or vice president in elections and governance. Having failed in two previous elections, Professor Mills’ choice of John Mahama served as a game changer for Mills’ presidential bid.

Mahama was a moderate with crossover appeal among the middle class and independent voters. His experience as a minister and parliamentarian, in addition to his communication skills made Mills’ bid formidable. In terms of geography, that ticket was balanced as Mills was a southerner and Mahama was a northerner.

It is widely believed that one of the main reasons that led to Mills’ victory at the 2008 polls was the John Mahama factor. Mahama was both good for the campaign and for the Atta Mills government. As vice president, he was more visible and credible than previous vice presidents.

Akufo-Addo’s choice of Mahamudu Bawumia was a surprise to many and described as outlandish. Bawumia, a technocrat from the Bank of Ghana was unknown in politics. However, Akufo-Addo argued that Bawumia would be helpful to him in the management of the economy. Arthur-Kennedy subsequently described Bawumia as a “governing choice” and not an “electoral choice.” Bawumia’s value to the ticket was to be seen in government, making him more of a partner than someone who is merely there to balance the ticket – regardless of the fact that he is from the north and Akufo-Addo is from the south.

By 2012 and 2016, Dr. Bawumia had found his feet in politics and carved a niche for himself as an economic prophet. His frequent economic lectures, predictions about the economy and proposals for addressing economic gaffes of the Mahama administration resonated well with the middle class. Bawumia the technocrat became a politician whose rhetoric could not be ignored anymore by his opponents.

2020 running mates

John Mahama is now a former president making a comeback. The scars of his presidency seem to have eroded his 2008 charm. His opponents tag him as corrupt, indecisive, and incompetent. To energize his bid, he has nominated a running mate who has little or no political baggage. Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang is an accomplished educationist, first female head of a major public university and former education minister.

The fact of Naana’s selection is historic, being that this is the first time any of the two leading political parties in Ghana has chosen a female running mate.

Secondly, Naana is a fresh face on the stage in some regard. Although education minister for four years, she remained mostly invisible in the media and scandal-free. She is perceived as a moderate politician whose mild manner may appeal to the middle class and independent voters.

The Mahama-Naana ticket also balances well on two fronts – geography and gender; Mahama from the north and Naana from the south. Whether her gender will attract female voters or not is yet to be determined. Her main weakness for the ticket is her lack of campaign experience.

Bawumia, having been Akufo-Addo’s running mate and lead surrogate in three previous elections, he comes to the 2020 elections with profound campaign experience which may give him an edge over Naana. Regardless, having a highly active and visible vice president with a brief on economic management and digitization, his record will be under scrutiny, just as Naana’s as education minister will be too.

On the ballot

Even though Mahama and Bawumia as vice presidents have elevated the office, executive power is fully vested in the president. The vice president has no power unless the president gives them. They will only be as effective as the president makes them or wants them to be. So regardless of the competence of Naana or Bawumia, the real deal will be the president they serve under. After all, we vote for a president, not a vice president and the vice president’s value is enhanced by the president whom he runs with.

Columnist: Terry Mante
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