By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK April 17, 2016
On November 7, 2016 Ghana will hold one of the most important general elections (presidential and parliamentary) in the history of the Fourth Republican Constitution for a number of reasons. The presidential election is the keenly anticipated and would be fought between the incumbent President John Mahama of the ruling NDC and Nana Akufo-Addo of the main opposition, NPP. Six months to the elections, the pundits are already at work forecasting and predicting the results. The respected Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) was the first to predict victory for Nana Akufo-Addo (“Mahama running out of time: NPP win likely-EIU”, Ghanaweb, March 31, 2016). Prof Ezekiel Nii Noye Nortey, Senior Lecturer at the Statistics Department, University of Ghana has also predicted that NPP will win the presidential election with 51.3% and NDC will secure 48.3% in a run-off (“Research predicts run-off in 2016”, Ghanaweb, April 8, 2016). Both predictions are not grounded on any empirical research, neither did they take into consideration the factors that could influence the outcome of the presidential election. This article is not a prediction but analysis of the factors that may determine whether Nana Akufo-Addo will be third time lucky to win the presidency as the late Prof Mills did or President Mahama will secured a second term.
The November 7 elections will be the seventh since the Fourth Republic and for that reason, the starting point should be historical antecedents in the past twenty-four years. Among the arguments President Mahama will be using is that both presidents Rawlings and Kufour were given two-terms by the electorate and therefore he also deserves a second term. In fact, in 2012 his position was that NDC should be given a second term and since NDC has had its second term, he will change his position to a second term for himself. This argument though reasonable cannot be made in a vacuum, even if there is some vague evidence to supports it. However, are practices from six elections long enough to conclude definitely that a norm has been established and should or would be followed?
Another problem with this argument is that there is no clear proof whether the two consecutive terms were given to either the incumbent candidate or the ruling party. It also disregards other factors such as the performances that might have contributed to both Rawlings and Kuffour wining second terms. Not factoring in performance and making a case for a second term purely on the established practice is suggestive of automation or a right that once elected for a first term, the incumbent must be given a second term irrespective of performance or non-performance. This argument is absurd and not what is expected in a constitutional democracy. In fact, if that is what the framers of 1992 Constitution intended, they would be been more explicit.
Having made the above observations, what do the historical facts allude to, if anything? If the Rawlings and Kufour two terms could be regarded as scientifically establishing customary practice and therefore the Ghanaian electorate will follow suit in 2016, then the odds favour incumbent Mahama to win his second term. On the other hand, if the practice is for the ruling party and not the incumbent candidate, then NDC has had its two terms and now the turn of NPP, so the advantage is on the side of Nana Akufo Addo to win the presidency in November (with all others factors being equal).
In reality, it would be unfair, if not disrespectful to assume that the Ghanaian electorate do not make rational choices at elections but simply vote to give a candidate or political party a second term for the sake of either the candidate or party being the incumbent. Equally, it would be wrong to believe that governing parties are changed at the end of every two terms. It would be naïve for any of the two candidates and their respective political parties to make the above assumptions and expect victory as forgone conclusion. In other words, there are more to the two terms practice so far than simply the established norm. Above all, it is my candid opinion that other factors such as performance of the incumbent president and ruling party played major roles in second term victories. President Mahama must run on his achievements for the past four years and NDC campaign on their eight years’ record.
What are President Mahama’s achievement? I do not intend to conduct extensive review of the past four/eight years but only to restate the EIU prediction that time is not on the side Mahama to reduce the economic hardships on the electorate before November 7, 2016. The damage caused to the economy by three years of dumsor (power shortages) and the astronomical increment in utility prices under Mahama’s watch are well known and a threat to his re-election efforts. In fact, dumsor is not over yet and could be campaign ammunition for NPP. Notwithstanding dumsor, high unemployment rates, high interest rates and utility prices, Mahama and NDC are confident that they have undertaken unprecedented infrastructure development projects across Ghana that will secure them victory in November. Fortunately, not only Nana Akufo-Addo and NPP can campaign on the Kufour achievement but also be able to compare and contrast the eight years of NPP under Kufour with NDC’s eight years of the late Prof Mills and President Mahama.
As per EIU’s forecast that Ghana’s economy will see better growth from 2017, President Mahama could use the forecast as indication of his performance. He is already claiming that he has laid good foundation for growth in the future. However, I think future growth is dependent on regular and consistent supply of energy. Had it not been three years of dumsor, Ghana’s economy would have been in a better state than it is now and Mahama and NDC would have been in a stronger position to shout louder about their prudent economic management but that as things stand, is in doubt.
Prof Nortey’s prediction of a run-off with NPP wining on 51.3% against NDC’s 48.7% is to say the least, very interesting. According to the news report as referenced above, Prof Nortey only relied on statistical analysis of previous election results to draw his conclusions. His methodology is serious flawed because it assumed that all conditions remained the same. That makes his conclusion unreliable as the facts on the ground indicated that the six elections were held under different circumstances, not least, some of the candidates were different and the seventh would be no different.
The Kufour first term was won on the background of a very strong coalition of the willing, including even opposing forces. Ghanaians were fed up with nearly two decades of Rawlings. Ghanaians feared that Rawlings had imposed the late Prof Mills on his party in order to be a de facto president so there was appetite and urgency for real change. The same fear contributed to his second term victory in addition to results and incumbency advantage. Can we say that Ghanaians are fed up with Mahama or is there the urgency for real change in Ghana? NPP would say, definite yes whilst NDC’s answer would be definitely not.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that there is the need for change after eight years of NDC government. Can we also conclude that there is a coalition of willing forces on the side of Nana Akufo-Addo? From the facts on the grounds that definitely is not the case at the moment. In fact, on the contrary, the NPP itself is not unified let alone attract other smaller parties (with the exception Konadu’s party) as Kuffour did. Based on the prevailing factors, Prof Nortey predictions are nothing more than academic or intellectual dishonesty. In fact, I am of the view that if Nana Akufo-Addo and NPP are to win the presidential election, it must be on the first round or what is known popularly in Ghana as one-touch. This because a run-off victory requires support from the smaller parties. With the exception of Kuffour who was assisted by the Rawlings factor, the Danquah-Busia-Dombo tradition is at a disadvantage in gaining the support of smaller parties as most smaller parties in Ghana are ideologically leftist inclined (as evident in 1979 and 2008). Moreover, the advantage or misuse of incumbency is on the side of Mahama and NDC when it comes to forming alliances for a run-off.
Another factor to consider for a run-off victory in the presidential election is which party controls the legislature. Again, the practice in Ghana is that the party with parliamentary majority wins the presidency in the run-off (1979, 1999 and 2008), though it is not a forgone conclusion that the practice would be followed. In fact, it is possible for Nana Akufo-Addo to win the presidency and NDC to control the legislature.
The performance of the smaller parties in the first round could also have considerable impact on which party controls the legislature and the candidate who wins the presidency. Again, as indicated above, good performance by the smaller parties in both the parliamentary and presidential elections would affect negatively the electoral fortunes of NDC more than the NPP and could result in NPP gaining control over the legislature and Nana Akufo-Addo winning the presidency one touch. However, in the event of a run-off, most of the smaller parties (except NDP) are likely to support NDC. This because Konadu’s sole electoral objective is for NDC to lose the presidency so that she and her husband can take back their party. Nduom may not publicly support any of the two parties but leave the decision to his party members to make.
The advantage, misuse or abuse of incumbency is a factor in any elections around the globe but particularly in Africa. All the state resources are at the disposal of President Mahama and NDC. Cabinet ministers, MMDCEs and others would all use state resources to campaign for Mahama. That is not the case for Nana Akufo-Addo and NPP. There is also the advantage of using policy decisions such as funding or initiating short and long-term projects and programmes to gain electoral advantage. All the opposition can do at best, is make promises. However, abuse of incumbency cannot always guarantee electoral victory as were in 1999 and 2008, when NDC lost to the opposition NPP and vice versa, though the similarities on both occasions were that the incumbent presidents were not candidates.
The candidacy of the incumbent president or otherwise is also another interesting factor that must considered in November 2016. Some pundits claim that Prof Mills won on his third consecutive attempt at the presidency and therefore Nana Akufo-Addo could also win on his third consecutive attempt. However, there is a difference in the two situations. Prof Mills’s third attempt was against only the incumbent party and not incumbent president. However, Nana Akufo-Addo is facing both incumbent president and a ruling party on his third attempt as was his second attempt.
The other serious risk to President Mahama’s re-election in November is sadly a terrorist attack in Ghana (may God forbid). Ghanaians will blame him for accepting the two Guantanamo Bay Yemenis from USA and the electorate would punish him for that decision in the unlikely event of an attack prior to November 7, 2016. Ghana unlike most western developed democracies where the electorate would consider such attacks as attempt by terrorists to influence the electoral process and therefore not punish the incumbent leader, Ghanaians would not be that accommodating. In the unlikely event of an attack in Ghana, President Mahama is most likely to suffer electoral defeat, though it could be opportunistic and insensitive for the opposition to take advantage of a national tragedy to campaign on it for votes.
In conclusion, there is everything to play for on November 7 and both President Mahama and Nana Akufo-Addo have the opportunity to win. However, with all things being equal, the advantage is slightly with the incumbent. That advantage will last as long as dumsor and the economy continue to improve from now until election day, whilst Nana Akufo-Addo’s chances of victory would improve as long as he is able to unify his party and attract votes from smaller parties or the smaller parties do well especially at the presidential elections in the first round.
Mahama would make history whatever the outcome of the presidential election. If he wins, he would be the first to secure a third consecutive term for his party and the longest ever serving president under the Fourth Republican Constitution. Securing third consecutive presidential victory in bi-partisan democracy such as Ghana and US with two terms maximum and fixed election dates are not easy. In the US it happened only twice in the 20th Century. President Franklin D Roosevelt won four consecutive terms (1933 – 1945) for the Democrats probably due to the Second World War that enabled him to contest more than the maximum two terms and the Republicans won the presidency on three consecutive terms (1981 - 1993) by Roland Reagan’s two terms followed immediately by his Vice-President, George Bush Snr’s one term). The Democrats are hoping to secure a third consecutive White House victory on November 8, 2016.
On the other hand, should President Mahama lose on November 7, he would be the first one term president and the shortest presidential reign in the Fourth Republic. A Nana Akufo-Addo victory will confirm or affirm the customary practice or doctrine of two-terms and you are out for political parties as well, the “third time lucky” theory for candidates. These are postulates or speculations at best and only time will tell.
Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK