“If they make the wrong move by arresting any of our officers, they will know no peace and this country will suffer for that. We are not scared to be arrested but if they try to arrest any of us we will make this country ungovernable.” Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, General Secretary, New Patriotic Party
In most established democracies, the concession speech has over time assumed the reputation of the swan song of an unsuccessful competitive Presidential campaign. Typically, a losing candidate will precede a public concession by privately conceding to the winning candidate through a telephone call. In Ghana’s 20 year democratic run, two traits have proved somewhat elusive, namely voluntary resignations of troubled public officials and spectacular concessions of the type seen in American presidential elections. In the aftermath of the emerging issues from Ghana’s 2012 Presidential run, the decision of the New Patriotic Party to contest the results in court, Ghana’s democracy may yet experience one of the reasons why a losing candidate may refuse to concede – suspicion of electoral fraud.
Other reasons often adduced for refusal to concede may be ill will generated during the campaign and/or the losing candidate simply being a sour and intemperate loser reflective of one bent on winning power at all costs.
But why should the NPP’s Nana Akufo-Addo concede defeat to His Excellency John Mahama when he strongly suspects that the latter has been the unworthy beneficiary of ill- gotten votes? In its aftermath, I have heard attempts to compare Akufo-Addo’s conduct to that of late former President John Mills. I reckon this is a bit misplaced for the simple reason that Akufo-Addo is not Mills. Mills… Mills, especially in 2004, amidst similar suspicions of electoral fraud and goaded on by calls to resist the announced results, opted to sacrifice what some may call his democratic and constitutional rights to contest election results in Ghanaian courts on the alter of peace. Against popular opinion within his own party to stage public protests inter alia, he chose to concede and in the process, earned himself the title of Asomdweehene aka King of Peace. If Mills preferred the title of peace monger to asserting his rights, why should people attempt to box Akufo-Addo, a political slugger, into the same space of ‘peace’ when he doesn’t belong –not in 2008 and not in 2012?
The laws do allow the NPP to go to court and we must all exercise restraint in allowing them to exercise that right. Some might even argue that in doing so, they are pushing the frontiers of democratic practice in Ghana even further. It is just the history of violent elections in Africa that I assume makes some people nervous whenever there appears to be lack of closure to any electoral contest. In Ghana, Akufo-Addo’s right to contest is not in dispute.
Asserting this right however and incitement of one’s supporters unto civil disorder and acts of violence upon the goading of its leaders is another matter. The leadership of the NPP, whose conduct we keenly observe, is choosing to position itself and the party in a problematic manner and in the process, threaten our collective sense of comfort. Legally contesting elections ought not to result in attacks on journalists (which leadership is now belatedly contesting), ought not to result in lynching of opponents or threats thereof, ought not to result in smashing of cars and ought not to result in illegal conduct.
Perhaps, in the current anger, the party does not really appear to care a hoot about strategically losing the battle and winning the war of Presidential electoral politics one day. In not caring, the party’s General Secretary has stated for example that an arrest by security forces will amount to a wrong move and in the process, the New Patriotic Party is able and willing to make Ghana, which has enjoyed peace for so long that it has probably taken it for granted, ungovernable!
Of course, if exciting its core fan base is the aim of the NPP, they might well continue with their current conduct. One question however remains. Where will all the above leave the NPP in the event that their legal challenge remains unsuccessful? Will the party have generated goodwill in the public mind or will the party have alienated itself further? When it is all over, will we remember the party for guaranteeing or threatening our peace and security? Will their leaders be commended for a gallant legal contest or for operationalizing their candidate’s ‘all die be die’ values and principles? Will it be easier then to entrust them subsequently with our mandate or be more suspicious? Why is it that whenever Ghana’s electoral commission announces that Akufo-Addo has lost an election, the first question of many people is –will he concede? The people in eight out of the ten regions that continue to vote against the NPP will ask themselves why this party is not creating the opportunity to reflect that perhaps, just perhaps, they lack broad and deep national appeal and focus on evolving strategies to attract more supporters instead of pursuing a course that may well cement the reasons why people voted against them in the first place.
These are the issues the good people will be reflecting upon and in 2016, I reckon that voters will ask themselves what relationship these concerns have with their electoral choices. Of course, all the reflections above are still without prejudice to NPP’s rights to a legal contest. They must assert their rights. We will however watch the party and document the conduct and pronouncements of its leaders and supporters very carefully. As Maya Angelou said poignantly, people may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel. And the current conduct is entrenching a very sour taste in our mouths.
In its anger in defeat, let the NPP pause to reflect. The recent attempts of Elizabeth Ohene et al to reign in their supporters, while commendable, is seriously at risk of becoming too little too late.
As for John Mahama, congratulations are due. We must however position ourselves to put him under serious pressure in the cause of delivering on manifesto pledges. Real work that transforms our country beckons and focus without distraction will do him and Ghana good.
14th December, 2012
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