Governing power has alternated between the two since the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution.
Many non-political actors have often said that the two parties are almost the same. A look at the historical antecedents, ideological subscriptions and governing policies will give an indication with regards to the sameness or otherwise of these two parties.
Historical antecedents of the NPP
The NPP tracks its roots to the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), reputed to be the first political party to be formed in Ghana (then Gold Coast). The UGCC was founded by J. B. Danquah in 1947 to lead Ghana’s quest for independence from the British. Ghana’s first President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was invited to become a leading member of this party.
After poor showing in the 1951 elections, the UGCC merged with other groups to form the Ghana Congress Party (GCP) under the leadership of Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia.
When the Avoidance of Discrimination Act of 1957 was passed, all parties that had ethnic, racial and religious identities were rendered illegal.
Northern People’s Party, Muslim Association Party, National Liberation Movement, Anlo Youth Association, Togoland Congress, and Ga Shfimokpee merged with Busia’s GCP to form United Party (UP). The UP was the only opposition party in Ghana from 1957 until Nkrumah’s regime made Ghana a one-party state in 1964.
When the military junta that overthrew Nkrumah’s regime eventually lifted the ban on activities of political parties, Busia mobilized his UP associates to form the Progress Party which won the elections of 1969, making Busia the Prime Minister of Ghana until he was overthrown by General Kutu Acheampong in 1972.
Upon the resumption of the democratic system in 1979, the Popular Front Party (PFP) emerged, led by Victor Owusu, a man who previously served as Busia’s Foreign Minister and Attorney-General.
A breakaway party called the United National Convention (UNC) emerged under the leadership of William Ofori Atta, one of the founding members of UGCC, member of the ‘Big Six’ and one-time Foreign Minister in Busia’s cabinet. Both parties – PFP and UNC – contested the election of 1979. This division caused victory to elude both parties.
Eventually, the PFP and UNC joined other parties to become All People’s Party to oppose the People’s National Party administration of President Hilla Limann, the winner of the 1979 elections.
Upon the overthrow of the Limann administration by the Jerry Rawlings-led Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), all political parties were disbanded. However, the operatives of the Danquah-Busia tradition kept their network active. When political activities resumed in 1992, they became the New Patriotic Party.
Throughout the course of Ghana’s post-independence expedition, the NPP tradition has always been present in one form or the other.
The formation of the NDC
Apart from the Danquah-Busia tradition that led to the emergence of the NPP, the Nkrumahist tradition had been present too. These two traditions, except during periods of military interventions, dominated the political landscape of Ghana until ouster of the Limann administration in December 1981.
The PNDC, led by Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings governed the country for eleven years after overthrowing Limann’s government. On the precipice of the return to democracy, the PNDC metamorphosed into a political party and rebranded as National Democratic Congress (NDC). Rawlings led the new party to win two elections until he could no longer run under the new constitution.
It must be noted that many of the leading and founding members of the NDC previously had affiliations with either the Danquah-Busia or Nkrumahist tradition. People from academia, industry and commerce as well as various professions were part of the NDC. The NDC thus became an amalgamation of diverse individuals and groups from different backgrounds. Somehow, the NDC must have taken over the constituency of the Nkrumahist tradition in the Fourth Republic, hence the near annihilation of all the parties that have claimed to be offshoots of Kwame Nkrumah’s original Convention People’s Party.
Social democracy and center-right
Article 5 of the NDC Constitution describes the party as a “social democratic party that believes in the equality and the egalitarian treatment of all persons irrespective of their social, cultural, educational, political, religious and economic relations in a multi-party environment.”
Social democracy is a moderate form of socialism that embraces a mixed economy. It believes in the progressive and gradual transformation of the economy to a socialist one within a liberal democratic framework. Social democracy sits on the left-wing of the left-right political continuum but closer to the center than other left-wing parties.
Social democratic parties oppose the wide gap between the rich and the poor and advocate for minimum wage laws, labor laws that protect workers’ rights, and progressive tax policies.
On the other hand, the NPP sees itself as a center-right party that seeks “to liberate the energies of the people for the growth of a property-owning democracy… with right to life, freedom and justice, as the principles to which the government and laws of the land should be dedicated in order specifically to enrich life, property and liberty of each and every citizen.” This was a definition given by its most influential forebearer J. B. Danquah and quoted on the preliminary page of the party’s constitution.
Globally, center-right parties favor minimal government intervention and involvement in the economy. Individuals should be free to participate in the market without much government intervention to create wealth. Regardless, they also believe that individuals cannot be relied upon to be responsible in all areas of life, thus support a strong state for the maintenance of law and order, as well as protection of civil liberties.
How do these dominant parties express their stated ideology when they are in government? Do they even adhere to the tenets of their ideology?
Since the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, NPP and NDC have dominated political contests, taking turns in the governance of the nation.
In the early days of the PNDC revolution, Jerry Rawlings vehemently rejected every right-wing policy proposition. Although leftist in orientation, it is baffling that the government he overthrew was a leftist one too. His leanings to the left inspired him to hound many private wealthy entrepreneurs under the pretext of corruption. Nonetheless, as the economy grew weaker and the nation faced drought, he succumbed to the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) of the Bretton Woods institutions.
The SAP required the Government to adopt certain policies in exchange for aid from the World Bank and other multilateral and bilateral development agencies. Some of the policy measures instituted included liberalization of trade and foreign direct investment, privatization of state-owned enterprises, and fiscal policy discipline with the view to reducing or eliminating budget deficit. The adoption of these ideas, most of which were core principles of capitalism and right-wing politics, led to a relaxation of Rawlings’ anti-right stance.
This approach to governance dovetailed into the Fourth Republic when the PNDC metamorphosed into the NDC. Their softened socialist ideology came full circle when the party formally adopted social democracy upon losing the election to the NPP in 2000.
The NPP’s tenures in office under the leadership of Presidents John Kufuor and Nana Akufo-Addo have surprisingly seen state-funded roll out of far-reaching social intervention programs. These have included the National Health Insurance Scheme, School Feeding Program, establishment of Metro Mass Transit System, Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), Free Senior High School program and others.
While these may not be strange for a center-right party, it seems the center-left NDC’s social intervention programs have not been as far-reaching as those initiated by the NPP.
Pragmatism trumps ideology
The experience demonstrates that whether leftist or rightist, each wing recognizes some good in the other, hence the gradual drift towards the center. For government to work effectively for the good of the people, ideology must give way to pragmatism. No wonder former President Kufuor opined to veteran broadcaster Kwaku Sakyi-Addo that, “Pragmatism is the best ideology.”