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Politics Tue, 23 Feb 2021

Analysis: Why Health Minister-designate and MP elect for Dormaa Central won the seat for a fourth time

Perhaps what stood chaotic, problematic, a blemish, a blight and a major challenge to Mr Kwaku Agyemang-Manu's bid to win the ticket to contest as the New Patriotic Party (NPP) parliamentary candidate for Dormaa Central Constituency was the lawless and violent behaviour initially staged by a group of members of the party who had vandalised the old party office opposite the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of Cocobod ahead of the party's parliamentary primaries.

Their actions and behaviour might have momentarily ruptured his thoughts, unsettled him and made him quite nervy and uncomfortable as he battled for approval and acceptance to run on the ticket of the NPP in Dormaa Central Constituency.

The lawless revolt by the members was to protest the decision by the national executives of the party to drop and sideline Dr Yao Yeboah, the Governing Council Chairman of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), his main rival and contender, against those who wanted to block him from competing with Mr Agyemang-Manu for the parliamentary primaries.

Their protest and dissenting views, regardless of how loud it was, had done very little to change the mind of the national executives to relinquish and forfeit that undemocratic idea and unilateral decision to allow Mr Agyemang-Manu to solely contest the Parliamentary elections unopposed for the NPP. Obviously, this was borne out of deep convictions and belief that he was stronger than Dr Yeboah on the ground.

The undercurrent which brews from the party hierarchy at the constituency level depicted the cracks which existed at the top was clearly revealed and manifested in the run-up to the elections. At a point Mr Agyemang-Manu had fingered Mr Iddrissa Ouattara, the Dormaa Central Municipal Chief Executive for been behind those dissidents accusing him of inciting them to vandalise the old party office, to oppose his candidature.

But sources indicate that personally, Agyeman-Manu was not in favour of that idea by the National Executive Council to allow him to go unopposed in the parliamentary primaries. He had wished that someone had contested him but he couldn’t help it as the directive had come from the top.

Mr Agyemang-Manu won the Dormaa Central seat in the December 7 parliamentary elections beating his main rival of the NDC, Mr Gordon Kwaku Asubonteng, a former Municipal Chief Executive for Dormaa Central. The strength of the NPP in the elections in fact widened with the margin recorded at over 8,000 votes. Mr Agyemang-Manu, popularly known as Dormaa Mugabe polled 28, 540 votes. Mr Asubonteng got 20, 085 of total votes.

Looking back after the elections, whether the decision by the national executives to allow Mr Agyemang-Manu to go unchallenged and unopposed was justified or not is not the main focus, topic and subject matter up for discussion in this piece.

If nothing at all the surprises pulled by the December 7 elections can be a perfect guiding post - where independent aspirants have managed to win parliamentary elections like the case of the MP for Fomena.

It is enough to remind all particularly those who actively engage in politics of how unpredictable and uncertain electoral outcomes can be.

Whether it's the best decision to field what in their estimation is a popular, strong grassroots politician or long-standing, domineering incumbents, as against a candidate who should be democratically elected by the party's delegates remains yet a puzzling, tricky, complex subject for political parties, academicians, subject matter experts on politics to explore and contemplate with in subsequent years.

NDC's biggest dilemma, taking back the Dormaa Central seat, who to choose to run on the party's ticket

The NDC knowing very well the huge challenge at stake and which had confronted the party in annexing the Dormaa Central seat after it had eluded it for the past 20 years, had long drawn a strategy to change the narrative Dormaa Central Constituency is an NPP's stronghold.

First they succeeded in setting up Professor Kwame Agyenim Boateng, a lecturer at Sunyani Technical University, in 2012 to contest Mr Agyemang-Manu in the parliamentary elections. He lost albeit narrowly to him. Fast forward to 2016, they brought on Mr John Adu Jack, a lecturer and Head of Economics Department at the Valley View University in the 2016 parliamentary elections. He was flipped.

Before then, Mr Adu Jack had embarked on a vigorous campaign to galvanise support from the party's base motivating and encouraging them to try him as the party's surest bet to win the Dormaa Central seat from the NPP.

Following the abysmal, shambolic performance and poor showing by Mr Adu Jack in the 2016 elections although he had lost narrowly, and closed the gab between him and his main contender Mr Agyemang-Manu, an idea to float Mr Asubonteng's name quickly surfaced and was strategically advanced across.

This generally resonated so well with the party's rank and file. It was a tough route to ply, particularly, for many who saw Mr Asubonteng as inexperienced and a new kid on the block whose popularity, candidacy in competing in parliamentary elections had never ever been tested and may dim.

Given the robust, dynamic nature of politics in the Dormaa Central area, some supporters saw this as a rather wasteful, risky and expensive adventure for the party to take and quite an uncertain path to trek, not too sure how this move will positively impact on its fortunes.

Some had argued Mr Adu Jack be maintained to run on the party's ticket since he was already known and had been marketed for a very long time. These suggestions as usual was met with a bit of opposition, disagreements and a barrage of silent criticisms from some NDC party members in the area.

The idea to push Mr Asubonteng forward to contest for the parliamentary elections was premised on the fact that he had then served previously in the erstwhile Mahama administration between 2012-2016 as the Municipal Chief Executive of Dormaa Central Municipality and by virtue of his solid track record, considering the level of development and achievements he had chalked during his tenure in office massively in infrastructure, transforming the phase of Dormaa Ahenkro into a modern city which can match up to any other in Ghana and Africa, that alone was symbolic and instrumental which sat well with the people and made him extremely popular amongst them. He used that as a launchpad to contest in the party's primaries and was subsequently given the greenlight to contest the Parliamentary elections.

If there's anything which may be unforgettable, an obvious reality, unelusive but might still appear another major obstacle and a daunting task for the NDC to surmount, obviously it will be whom to field to contest for the parliamentary seat in the 2024 elections. The clarity of that message have been echoed, a hundred times, following their unsuccessful attempt once again to win the Dormaa Central seat in the December 7 elections.

A great wait is anticipated and needed to find out how things will unfold and turn out in the camp of NDC, going forward in the next general elections.

Two giants battle on a common winning formula

One common feature which run through the lines so clear and loud for the two most dominant parties - NPP and NDC - is the manner they had approached their campaigns towards the December 7 elections. They both had embarked on weekend or Saturday health walks that attracted some large following in total disregard for social distancing and covid 19 protocols.

The NPP held theirs almost every Saturday and this was heavily and regularly patronised by Mr Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, the Health Minister and MP-elect for the area who managed to squeeze out some time out of his busy ministerial schedules travelling from Accra to Dormaa-Ahenkro regularly to take part in the exercise as well as Mr Drissa Ouattara, the Dormaa Central Municipal Chief Executive and other Constituency party executives.

The health walks even became more pronounced a month to the general elections. During such exercises, these two high profile figures have had the opportunity to address huge gatherings. Those exercises and platforms served as avenues to mobilise, garner, and rally support for the party, apart from selling its political ideology and philosophy to would-be members or undecided voters. The NDC held theirs too in a similar fashion.

The two parties also adopted the community outreach, door to door campaign strategy visiting rural and remote areas in the Municipality. Pictures emerged constantly on social media of Mr Drissa Ouattara issuing out flyers and NPP party brochures to some people where he had visited to campaign few weeks to the elections.

The constituency executives of the NPP visited places believed to be NDC strongholds notably Kofibadukrom, Danyame, Antwirifo, Amakyekrom, Korang and Bebianeha. The NDC likewise concentrated their campaigns intensely in their opponent's strongholds namely Nsuhia, Aboabo Number One and Number Two, Kofiasua and Sromani.

They were however, less sophisticated compared with NPP in the deployment of heavy-duty campaign logistics such as vehicles on the ground. The NPP used 5 vehicles across the most rural part of the Municipality but NDC had utilised only one pick up, belonging to Mr Asubonteng, their parliamentary aspirant making it extremely difficult for them to spread out campaign activities to cover hard to reach areas at the same time.

The NPP concentrated their campaign efforts largely in the market places particularly on market days where large crowds flock to patronise goods and services.

They will drive party-branded pick-ups to those places mounted with loudspeakers blasting out NPP campaign songs and music about President-elect, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo. Unlike the NPP, the NDC's strategy, form and approach in this slightly differed and took place not necessarily in the market places.

Images of Mr Asubonteng, their parliamentary aspirant would occasionally surface on Facebook interacting with some rural folks on campaign trail operating under the party's "Rescue Mission" agenda. Such mammoth rallies had often defied Covid 19 protocols.

The dangers, risk posed by the Coronavirus pandemic meant that very few persons actually took part in these campaign exercise for both parties when they had set off for the door to door campaign strategy or community outreaches.

A maximum of five to seven persons will be seen sitting down interacting with each other in a house, open space in the streets. There was never a large crowd or gathering seen around a particular spot in this door to door campaign activities.

The NDC under Gordon Asubonteng for the first time in the Constituency launched the party's manifesto where he had outlined its intentions, programmes, policies for the Constituency ahead of the elections. The occasion was used to outdoor the party's campaign committee who work to ensure a certain pattern was designed to execute its campaign plan for the Constituency.

Both parties also had used giant, medium and small size billboards as well as posters to advertise, sell, publicise their preferred candidates. They were erected throughout the length and breadth of the Municipality to capture the attention and mind of passers-by and passengers in the vehicle and alert them to what was about to happen.

Some images of Mr Agyemang-Manu beaming with an infectious smile appeared on street lights along some principal streets in Dormaa-Ahenkro. Personally, at one point, I saw a relatively huge pile of billboards with images of Mr Kwaku Agyemang-Manu being offloaded from the back of a pick-up at the frontage of the new office of the NPP, opposite the Electoral Commission (EC) building in Dormaa-Ahenkro. On the contrary, just some few billboards, posters with portraits of Mr Asubonteng were sited at vantage positions of the Municipality.

The two parties employed radio broadcasts to their advantage to reach the broad masses and disseminate information on party policies and programmes.

The NDC had weekly political programmes which featured their parliamentary candidate Mr Asubonteng and other Constituency party executives on all three radio stations in Dormaa Ahenkro - Voice fm, Gifts Fm and Dormaa Fm.

Aside from his core campaign squad, Mr Agyemang-Manu additionally appointed 150 people who worked to re-enforce and drive his campaign agenda, 42 of them were directly in charge of the house to house.

Agyemang-Manu's technology deployment and reliance, where Asubonteng narrowly fell short

The NPP, and for that matter Mr Agyemang-Manu had a unique winning formula, strategy, plan for Dormaa Central in a Covid pandemic. So what did the magic for the NPP and its candidate in Dormaa Central Municipality?

They had managed to scale through the elections successfully due to a number of factors - brazenly abusing incumbency, massive deployment of technology, running social media campaigns, and his team extensively embarked on widespread voter data mining during the compilation of voter registration exercise organised by the Electoral Commission (EC).

Using the powers of incumbency, Agyemang-Manu's team collected all the phone numbers/contacts of all eligible voters captured by the EC in Dormaa Central during the voters registration exercise. They will later call the numbers, and entreat persons behind those numbers, irrespective of the person's political affiliation, with a short message to retain both Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo and Mr Agyemang-Manu himself in power to continue the good works they have started for Ghana and Dormaa Municipality respectively.

Personally, about a month to the elections I fell victim to this scheme. An unknown number had called me. It was a lady's voice. I inquired who she was, and she mentioned her name. I asked her how I can be of help to her. I demanded how she got my phone contact. This is where she disclosed to me that she was calling from Mr Agyemang-Manu's office, that they harvested people's phone contact during the voters registration exercise and was asking me to do her a favour by voting for Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo and Mr Agyemang-Manu in the election.

Ironically, when I wanted to compile an analytical piece on the five parliamentary aspirants in Dormaa Central, I had respectfully and politely made enquiries from the EC boss in the area to furnish me with some personal information (ie. their age, residents, phone contacts, occupation etc) of the candidates.

I was demanding their information from the EC because it was difficult for me to find them and their party executives, some of them their phone contact never worked. Or they were not just ready and willing to respond and offer any form of assistance to a pressman.

The EC boss refused to give me what I requested for with explanation that the Commission is binded by data-protection laws not to release or volunteer personal information of candidates contesting the elections. He asked that I search for the candidates myself and access those details from them.

Three weeks afterwards, about a week to the election, the same lady called me again to remind me to vote for the two. I had long registered as a voter. Unlike Mr Agyemang-Manu, I never received a call from any person from Mr Asubonteng's office or the NDC to vote for him or former President John Mahama, the flagbearer of the NDC.

Clearly, this strategy of the NPP in voter data mining set the two candidates apart in a desperate, frantic effort to win a voter's mind. A top constituency executive of the NDC also confirmed to me he received similar call from someone entreating him to vote for the NPP in the run up to the elections.

Moreover, between Mr Asubonteng and Agyemang-Manu, the latter had harnessed the power of social media - particularly Facebook - to spread information on infrastructure developments already undertaken within the four years namely construction of CHPs, provision of mechanised boreholes for several communities under the Water for All programme, asphalting of Dormaa town roads, building of a Youth Resource Centre in Dormaa-Ahenkro, construction and rehabilitation of some Junior High Schools (JHS) and Senior High School (SHS) in the area among a host of other projects.

On election day, the NPP bused several hundreds of members from the party office to Sunyani and Berekum to vote but NDC did not organised any buses for its supporters.

Agyeman-Manu is on record to have personally funded the construction of a two bedroom house for a woman at Asikasu, in the Municipality whose apartment was destroyed by a rainstorm. He helped in the massive recruitment of nurses, doctors, accountants that received a lot of backing for his re-election.

Agyemang-Manu steps up campaign, video posts on Facebook three months to elections, Asubonteng is less active

According to Mr. Gad Ocran, Chief Executive Officer, Eazzy Social and Social Media Marketing Expert, Ghana's youthful population have become deeply technologically and digitally savvy with most of them spending a greater chunk of their time each day browsing the internet and social media.

"They are there. Your friends, that's where you can find them, doing all kinds of things on those social networking platforms," he adds.

With about over 2 million youth forming the majority of first time voters who registered during the voters registration exercise, it makes sense to track and target these digitally obsessed, super conscious and sensitive youth with political campaign messages using social media platforms - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

This is what Mr Agyemang-Manu's team had exploited to perfection. They didn’t underestimate the power of technology and its influence to affect election outcomes. They fully leveraged on it to influence the masses, affect public opinion and convey their campaign messages across to the population's majority, the youth especially, who are always on adventure surfing those networks.

On Facebook, the Health Minister and MP-elect for Dormaa Central operates two very active Facebook accounts. One has 1,367 followers, the other 27, 884 followers. It was difficult to trace and identify Mr Asubonteng's active Facebook page let alone the number of followers he has.

Many accounts have been opened in his name too and at certain instances when I tabbed the page to open what I surely knew, or believe was his actual Facebook account some either took you to someone's Facebook handle he(Mr Asubonteng) has been tagged or an old page that has not been updated for several months. It was messy.

A video posted on 31st October, two months to elections, on one of Mr Agyemang-Manu's pages clearly touted his achievements in Ghana's health sector and the significant role he has played as a cabinet Minister, making him a clout.

The video showed him receiving a Diplomat of the Global Charter Award Ceremony and a position he has attained as a Board Member of Global Vaccine Alliance and 24-member of World Health Organisation (WHO). The post engagement rate on that video attracted 173 likes, 30 comments, 46 shares and 5.5k views.

Barely a month to the December 7 elections, Mr Agyemang-Manu posts yet another video on 1st November just a day after the first post on his campaign drive. In this one, he is seen speaking eloquently in the Bono language about the favour he has received from his master President Akufo Addo.

Portions of the video witnessed the President praising him at a well-attended sod-cutting function held at Dormaa Presbyterian Hospital for the construction of a new Accident and Emergency Centre at the Hospital. The President extolled him for his exemplary leadership ability in managing the COVID-19 situation in Ghana.

President Akufo Addo remarked in same that, "Mr Agyemang-Manu remained a true pillar of his government and it was under the MP's able leadership that has seen Dormaa Central benefit from the facility". The video attracted 175 likes, 19 comments, 17 shares, and 4.7 views.

In that same month of November on the 27th day, he posts another video on his Facebook page of a young footballer at the Youth Resource Centre in Dormaa-Ahenkro urging parents to vote massively to retain President Akufo Addo and Mr Agyemang-Manu for bringing unprecedented development to the Municipality. That post is his second highest with post engagement of 1,000 likes, 47 comments, 66 shares and 21,000 views.

On 2nd December, only three days after the previous post and five days to the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, he again post a video of a commissioning of a health centre at Antwirifo, and a new Police Station at Nsesereso. This had a post reach of 50 likes, nine comments, 10 shares and 500 views. His last and final post came on the 4th of December, three days away from the elections.

This would also usher them into the main elections. It attracted the highest post engagement on his Facebook page. The video taken with a drone footage, and almost all his videos, saw him patronising a football competition organised by the Dormaa Football Association for Division two and three clubs at the Youth Resource Centre Stadium. The programme was used to promote heavily and campaign for the NPP even though it was supposed to be a sporting event, it turned out to be a typical political function by any stretch of any imagination.

Mr Agyemang-Manu in the video was seen desperately whipping up public support for the NPP government urging participants at the event, mostly the youth to retain the party in power stressing 10 regions were benefiting from a similar facility with the capacity to host all other sporting disciplines, across the nation and they could only continue if they get the nod. The one minute, 57 seconds video attracted 1.4k likes, 42 comments, 59 shares and 430 views.

Clearly, from the analysis above, the last three months of Mr Agyemang-Manu in 2020 was a strictly busy and a pretty hectic one for the Health Minister and MP elect for Dormaa Central on social media particularly Facebook. On the other hand, the Facebook page of his main opponent, Mr Asubonteng within that same period was dormant and less active.

If Facebook analytics or social media metrics is anything to go by, in a COVID-19 pandemic where large crowds and mass gatherings are to be avoided at all cost and where all in person meetings have gone virtual, then you will agree with me that Mr Asubonteng considerably failed to tap into the power and influence of social media to put him ahead of his competitor.

Just like Mr Agyemang-Manu, a review of Mr Asubonteng's Facebook page, had shown nothing or no serious content that could be politically engaging and overwhelmingly attract followers to his page. Instead, he managed to win the good will of others who did this bidding for him.

Mr Asubonteng's supporters Facebook page was awashed with his images as well as some images of few infrastructure projects he undertook during his tenure in office as the Municipal Chief Executive. They posted frequently on their pages more than Mr Asubonteng will do for himself on his own Facebook account.

A nine second video post by one of his loyal Facebook supporters(name witheld) finds him sitting at the back sit of a tricycle or 'pragyiaa' with a squirky voice of the rider remarking jokingly he is looking forward to Mr Asubonteng for motivation to strengthen him to perform the task for the day.

Although Mr Asubonteng has few images with NDC colours on the background on his personal Facebook page, a careful observation depicts that there was no calculated, measured, and a deliberate effort or a plan to use social media to carefully influence voters, and voter pattern to consciously win support for him and his NDC party during the elections.

But this was not so when he was the Municipal Chief Executive. He was regularly commenting, posting pictures and videos of activities his administration was executing and undertaking for the development of the Municipality. He did it for a brief period but stopped abruptly somewhere along the line when he got out of political office.

His activities on social media completely had fizzled out into thin air. Social media campaign was highly anticipated and rather to be stepped up as elections approached and now that he was seeking political office again as a would be parliamentarian but this just didn't happen for Mr Asubonteng.

He failed to post even a video or short clip on the constituency launch of his own party's manifesto on his Facebook account, not factoring into consideration the role audiovisual communication can play in impacting national elections. Mr Asubonteng it appears seems to have downplay this, and he paid dearly for it in a way.

While it's worth saying infrastructure development and using technology to promote development in a certain sense played a huge role in the victory of Mr Agyemang-Manu, it's fine to say it wasn't the overriding factor or influence in this fight.

The Health Minister and MP-elect had himself acknowledged this shortly after the collation of polling station results at the just ended Presidential and Parliamentary elections at the new Assembly Block Office Building.

"In Taforo I lobbied for the construction of a road project, whilst in Agyemangkrom we constructed a community clinic. We undertook other development projects in Abonsrakrom and Atesikrom but I didn’t win those communities," he noted.
Source: Robert Tachie Menson, Contributor
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