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Ghana politics: Johns, personalities & the silent majority

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President John Mahama
President John Mahama

The elections are over! On December 7, 2012, Ghanaians voted to elect 275 members of the legislature and a President. After two days of voting, the President of the Republic and the men and women who’ll make laws and scrutinize government expenditure for the next four years, were duly elected after results were declared by Ghana’s Electoral Commission. Members of winning campaigns are celebrating – they deserve to! Losing candidates and their campaign teams are doing the post mortem and playing all the ‘what if’ scenarios, as they deal with the unpleasant taste of defeat. All said and done, the elections hold some very important lessons for all stakeholders.

The elections were largely free and fair. The biometric register and verification process allowed for the freest voting our country has had since the return to democracy in 1992. And don’t take that from me; it’s the opinion of the many local and international election observer groups and media organisations that covered the elections. The minor hitches that were observed at some polling stations, the observers argue, were not significant enough to affect the outcome of the elections.

So how did it all play out? Well, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) retained the Presidency and increased its majority in the legislature. This heart-breaking outcome for the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and its supporters, constitutes an emphatic endorsement of the incumbent government; a sharp contrast from pre-election polls that suggested the presidential election would be as close (or closer) than the 2008 election that was won by late Prof. John Atta Mills by some 40,000 votes.

First is a little fun fact: Ghanaians elected to stick with having a ‘John’ as President. All four men elected to the office of President were called John. Though not a conscious decision (I think), it has prompted quite some chatter; including people joking about changing their names to John to increase their chances of being elected President. But onto more serious issues, there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that likeability is a major consideration for voters. The word in the street is that John Mahama – from as close as the average voter gets – appears a more affable individual. Indeed, many voters have admitted to voting for him on that account alone. And while many argue that it’s a vain reason to base one’s choice of President on, truth is, the world over, personality plays as big a factor in the success of a candidate as policy proposals. Same can be said of name recognition, celebrity endorsements, religion, race or ethnicity. Political Strategists ignore these seemingly small things at the peril of their candidates and campaigns. So in summary, the message, plans and ideas matter, but the messenger (candidate) seems to matter more. This is especially relevant because in politics, great ideas are as good as useless without the people’s mandate to implement. The results suggest people felt a better connection with John Mahama and perhaps found him to be more trustworthy. These are perceptions, but are a close substitute for truth in politics.

Beyond personalities is another phenomenon that I think played a big part in this election: The Silent Majority. Contrary to commentary that gave indication of an election that was too close to call, the results show a comfortable first round win for John Mahama, avoiding a run-off that many had thought would be necessary to determine who Ghana’s next President would be. Beyond all the campaign ads, radio and television talk, rallies and social media marketing, there was a chunk of the electorate who were either ignored or were not being polled. Elections aren’t fought and won in the media. This reality, I believe, will force political parties to increase contact with voters, instead of the now-prevalent heavy reliance on the convenience of mass media to churn out their messages. Often, the issues that inform the choices of the silent majority are easy to brush aside; and like most things in politics are perception rather than fact. Regardless of whether people admit it or not, “all die be die” and the excellent spin the NDC put on it contributed to some disaffection for the challenger – Nana Akufo-Addo. It suggested (even if untrue) a certain desperation for power that didn’t sit well with the silent majority, whom, it seems, would rather have their peace than entertain the slightest possibility of chaos that risks their already challenging lives. The ethnocentric rage by Kennedy Agyapong also didn’t help matters. It gets worse when rather than get condemned in the severest of terms; he remained a lead surrogate for Akufo-Addo and was one of a few speakers given the honour to address the NPP’s rallies. The silent majority pulled through for John Mahama.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is how the two major parties have handled the aftermath. The NDC has been uncharacteristically calm, a posture that has earned the party popular appeal and drawn plaudits for the President’s leadership; seeing that he promised to lead a ‘new’ NDC that appeals to the middle class. The chaos that has greeted the NPP’s handling of the declaration of victory for John Mahama has drawn widespread criticism and very likely leaves the silent majority vindicated over rejecting Nana Akufo-Addo’s pitch for the presidency. The party has every right under our constitution to contest the outcome of the election; but the party has an even greater responsibility to do the very best it can to restrain errant supporters who, aggrieved by the declaration, are on rampage causing harm to lives and property and creating a general feeling of insecurity. Regardless of the NPP’s confidence level in the allegations about electoral malpractice, it needs to be mindful what impression all of this leaves. The silent majority are taking notes.

In conclusion, the people of Ghana deserve commendation for yet another successful election cycle. We’ve affirmed our preference for democracy, in spite of its many challenges. There was a part of me that agreed with the school of thought that changing the party in government was beneficial for discarding the notion that a second term was pretty much a matter of right or fairness. It held promise for pushing parties to deliver greater results within each four year term, more mindful that another term is not really guaranteed. All said and done, Ghanaians have decided. The time is now to work even harder and contribute to national development. No leader, regardless of how well-intentioned, will achieve much without thoughtful committed citizens who understand what roles theirs are and play them passionately. Oh! I almost forget one responsibility that we mostly don’t take seriously: holding government to account for its manifesto pledges. I just downloaded a copy of the NDC’s 2012 manifesto. Make a list of the promises on the issues that matter most to you and keep tracking them over the next four years. That should inform your decision when you get into the voting booth in 2016.

God bless our homeland Ghana.

By Samuel Owusu Darko

Email: samuel.owusu.darko@gmail.com

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2 comments

  1. A very thoughtful and thought-provoking review of the election and its aftermath. In Ghana, there are two considerations analysts underestimate very often – the silent majority in politics, and the informal sector in the national economy!

  2. Kofi, you’re right! In a very informal society like we have in Ghana, campaign strategists need to be super-creative in crafting messages and campaign strategies that appeal to the very diverse electorate. It’s an enormous challenge and I can only sympathize with the people who dare to take the jobs of leading Presidential or even parliamentary campaigns in Ghana.