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Politics Sun, 18 Jun 2006

An Early NPP Primary Limits Mudslinging But Creates Dualism

?When voters complain about mudslinging, they're not talking about negative campaigning per se, as some in the media have witlessly surmised. They are, in fact, protesting a New Incivility -- a nasty, irrelevant, grindingly mean-spirited discourse that results not just from the desire to win but from an increasingly ego-driven politics where the players put personal career above public agenda. As a result, elections now have fewer consequences and foster campaign rhetoric disconnected from the realities of governance. Broken promises and moral hypocrisy thrive in that atmosphere.? Ron Faucheux, 1994

Qanawu has been compelled to make a come back by certain factors, major of which is the decision by The Statesman to go daily. As the name of this column suggests, the philosophy of this column is ?Speak Your Mind and Be Damned.? As such, it seldom wins the author any friends! But, there are plenty of issues to discuss and bubbles of hot air to deflate. Qanawu will, for this historic maiden edition of the Daily Statesman, look at matters within and around the internal battle to become the next presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party. There is an ongoing nationwide survey by The Statesman to sample views within the NPP on whether or not an earlier presidential primary would be preferable. The results should be published soon. The NPP constitution, as amended, simply states: 9(a) ?When the Party is in government, the election of a Presidential Candidate shall be held not later than 11 months before the national general election. (b) Notice inviting application for nomination as the Party?s candidate shall be given three (3) months prior to the holding of the National Congress and shall close after two (2) months. (c) Any Minister, National Officer, and District Chief Executive (DEC) [sic] who files to contest to become a Presidential Candidate of the Party shall resign his/her position.? Thus, Kufuor?s successor as flagbearer may not be known until as late as January 2008 or as early as now, which makes 9(a) rather a superfluous amendment. The Castle would prefer a December 2007 primary and for good reason. It would limit a situation of dualism, with divided allegiance between the sitting President and the presidential candidate. What the NPP wants is for President Kufuor to act effectively as the campaign manager for his successor. But, those who call for an early primary have good reason, too. And, they would be mightily helped if the NPP failed to take the imminent Nkoranza North by-election. One argument is that, the party and government are still not able to deal with the disillusionment among the rank and file that is cited as the main cause of the two by-election defeats before 2006. A new candidate can revive hope and stimulate confidence. But, there is another concern, perhaps, even more compelling. The crowded race to elect a presidential candidate for the NPP is notable for what an expensive mess of mudslinging politics it is turning out to be. Beyond the growing skirmishes in the media, some campaign activists have made it their policy to speak more ill of their candidate?s rivals than what their man has done for the party and country. Some sides have pulled out their daggers and are hacking away at each other while spending billions of cedis to thwart efforts to win loyalty. As one aspirant, who has managed so far to stay out of the media fray, told Qanawu some seven months ago, ?the backstabbing and dirty politics are getting too much and the earlier we choose a candidate the better. So we can all then rally around him.? Recently, he repeated this, in the light of growing evidence, and suggested that the primary must be held early enough for the party to present a strong, united front for Ghana?s Golden Jubilee anniversary in March 2007. Critics have charged that politics have become increasingly nasty over the years and it is spilling over into intra-party competition. In the typical political campaign, consultants and opposition researchers work behind the scenes, digging up dirt on rivals, spinning half-truths, spreading innuendo, and stirring up emotions with hot-button issues?all to win votes. The declining sense of civility that has throughout characterised contemporary politics in America is spilling over to our shores. The combined toxin of cediology and mudslinging is washing through our political system. Worse still, it is even characterising internal competition. The growing mudslinging is itself a demonstration of the extremely limited and constricted character of Ghanaian democracy, which is becoming dangerously monetized and desperate. The stage has now been set for presidential nominations in which the duration and intensity of the campaign and the scale of the financial and media resources mobilised will be in inverse proportion to the actual policy statements among the camps. Over a year or so of mutual mudslinging, scandal-mongering and front page attacks via friends in the press can only cost the parties, politics and the nation dearly.

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Policies, ideas and vision suffer under the weight of abandonment of standards. Across the aggressive media divide, some newspapers and even radio stations do not think twice about dissecting, with barbaric ruthlessness, distinctly non-public personal habits of politicians. No true believer of multi-party democracy and its inherent need to allow voters to make informed choices can fight against the public?s need to know. Voters need contrasting information to make choices, so negative campaigning, per se, is not necessarily bad. Except of course it is of limited value and can turn voters against the prosecutor, if that is seen as the defining factor of the campaign. And, no one but politicians should take the blame for their past or existing sins. The danger is not so much in the viciousness of the tabloid scandal-mongers who take their indiscriminate or discriminate pot shots, but in the issues being lost amidst the cloud of negative irrelevant gunpowder. You can attack without being malicious, is the advice. The publisher and editor of Campaigns and Elections, Ron Faucheux notes, ?Public figures are mortal humans; as such, they all have defects. Indeed, if they could be recalled like cars, they would all have to go back to the factory. Every one of them is subject to being picked apart, which is fine. But when the sundering becomes excessive, and contorts context, democracy is the true victim. It drives out good people and keeps new blood from entering public life. And that is a tragedy.? Politicians and political analysts across the democratic world support the view that political competition, like war, is not for the thin-skinned. It is hard and bloody. But, it is also getting very, very nasty. Take this scenario under Clinton. The President of the United States is asked on national television what kind of underwear he wears. He answers. A week later, he's sued for sexual harassment. Speculation ensues as to whether he will have to submit to having his genitals photographed. Another example, before the 2000 elections, a lady writes a book about George Bush Jnr, alleging that he was a serious alcoholic and drug abuser, who took cocaine repeatedly at Camp David when his dad was the President. He is described as a non-achiever who has made it in life riding on his family?s name and oil money. Wisely, the Republican presidential candidate chose not to respond to any of the negative media about him. He stayed focused on his message of ?Compassionate Conservatism? and scientifically appealed to the inner instinct of those who mattered ? first the delegates, later the American electorate, including the ordinary patriot. In spite of all the vicious attacks on his person and personality, Dubya raised over $70 million for the presidential primaries from groups, which included the powerful Christian Coalition. The Bush story is a classic example of how limited negative campaigning can be. In fact, it was the force of the negative campaign against Bill Clinton, which foolishly persuaded his Vice President Al Gore to push the man, who could have won a third term, to the back in Al Gore?s bid to succeed Clinton. Even closer home, a German lady who claimed to have had a sexual something with then President Rawlings wrote a whole ?explosive? book about the man, accusing him of all sort of things, but he ignored it, including the local media attention from that, and went on to beat the NPP again in 1996. Almost anything about a candidate?s life is fodder for an attack these days. The Ghanaian media, while feeding on the eagerness of some campaigners to throw mud, should also charge those who look to lead this nation to tell us how they plan to do this. Great issues require drawing clear lines between combatants and their opposing viewpoints. And, the media must force this debate. Ron Faucheux writes in New Incivility, ?Too many contemporary campaigners are allowing the stress of media inquiry and rapid-fire technology to rob them of their dignity. They think you have to be vicious to win. But if they looked at the real masters -- Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, and Franklin Roosevelt, like Lincoln and Jefferson before them -- they would learn a lot about hitting the opposition where it hurts and doing it without demeaning oneself. ?There you go again!? Reagan cut the hapless Jimmy Carter short half-way through a debate. ?We've had the New Deal and the Fair Deal, but before Mr. Nixon deals, somebody better cut the cards? mocked JFK in 1960; ?Martin, Barton, and Fish? was FDR's cheerful refrain as he taunted adversaries.? Closer home again, Nana Akufo-Addo?s moko a ya ni moko a ba was deadlier than a blunderbass of vicious attacks on the NDC in 2000. The party headquarters, now at Asylum Down, may pretend otherwise, but the NPP nationwide is divided into camps defined by the formidable aspirants shoving each other for recognition and self-ambition. But, are those jockeying for positions being fought brusquely on the vision field? How the ruling party decides who leads them will likely impact us for years to come and engaging in a frank conversation about where we should go is a labour of patriotism that the media and the public at large must encourage to gain ascendancy. We are a sharply divided country (both politically and socially), because we have chosen to look at issues from a defensive point of view rather than adopting a solution-based approach. Now, through this divisiveness as seen in the NDC during and after the December congress and as happening in the NPP now, craters are being created internally by parties turning missiles on themselves. Mudslinging has become as much a part of Ghanaian political campaigns as attending funerals, shaking hands and giving tips. But, the truth is far less complicated than most of the campaigners may wish to admit. Despite what many people may think (or want to think), both the NPP leadership and NDC leadership want the best for Ghana, as they see it. All the aspiring candidates for the NPP presidential nomination are patriotic Ghanaians and committed party loyalists who believe they can do better for the country based on their own plans for achieving the common goals of maintaining national security and ensuring the internal welfare of the nation and its people. It is our duty, as the press in particular and patriots in general, to create the forum for them to convince us. Today, some politicians are frequently attacked on character issues. Radio and television commentaries often deteriorate into sparring matches peppered with scathing one-liners and insults. Yet, public debates between candidates or about candidates should be mainly discourses on the issues. Political mudslinging is nothing new, says UAB political scientist Steven Daniels, Ph.D., who has been a political commentator for several local news organizations. For instance, Thomas Jefferson?s enemies accused him of having a slave mistress. Abraham Lincoln was subjected to insults because of his physical appearance. And Grover Cleveland?s rivals accused him of fathering an illegitimate child. Here in Ghana, the CPP perfected what was termed ?the whispering campaign.? A falsehood would be designed and spread as rumour, which would soon be formed into the gown of fact. Dr Danquah was stereotyped as an arrogantly uppity man, who traveled to the villages to campaign, with his own flask of water from Accra, because he couldn?t bear to drink even the customary welcome water offered to visitors. The content of the mudslinging then may have been just as bad back then, but fewer people read about it, because there were really no mass media, and many people were uneducated and therefore could not read. But after the rise of mass-circulated newspapers in the Fourth Republic and the explosion of radio, the reach of political mudslinging has become much broader. For years, UAB communication studies expert John Wittig, Ph.D., has studied political advertisements, many of which he refers to as ?attack? ads. ?In these kinds of ads, the candidate attacks the opponent?s voting record, personality, or personal life,? says Wittig, who teaches courses on public relations and propaganda. ?But what one person thinks is a legitimate criticism of an incumbent?s voting record is seen as a negative ad by another person.? Don't base your vote on just one issue, especially one that hurts people or one that fails to address the state's real needs. Don't believe everything you hear. And look for positive reasons to vote for a candidate, not trumped-up reasons to vote against him.

There is nothing wrong with going negative -- until it crosses the line and becomes unfair, deceptive, or hateful. ?You can attack without being malicious. Spitefulness degrades the attacker and diminishes the process. It feeds media obsessions and trivializes debate,? says Faucheux

Source: Statesman
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