Even before the new national executive take a foothold over affairs of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), there is already an indication that the contest for the flagbearership of the party will be exciting, controversial and keen.
Before the national executive could declare the ground rules for the flag-bearer race slated for the latter part of this year, three candidates have declared their readiness for the contest.
A couple of others have either hinted of participating in the contest or indicated by their actions that they are lacing their boots to contest.
The two-time flag bearer of the NPP, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who went into “hibernation” after the Supreme Court ruling on the 2012 election petition, has again declared his intention to run.
Arguably the most popular candidate of the party and frontrunner in the race, Nana Akufo-Addo, on his return from the UK, engaged in broad consultations and announced to the media:
“I will contest the party’s ticket for the 2016 presidential election. We have an unfinished business and I am ready to go back to work; I feel physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and patriotically strong enough to remain in front line politics.”
The NPP, with Nana Akufo-Addo as the flag bearer, managed 49.32 per cent in 2008 and 47.74 per cent in the 2012 elections.
Mr Alan Kyerematen, a Trade Minister in the Kufuor regime who has, on two occasions, given Nana Akufo-Addo a run for his money in the contest for the flagbearership, has also hinted of contesting again.
Mr Kyerematen, who ran against Nana Akufo-Addo in 2008 and 2012 but failed, intends making a third attempt at the flag-bearer slot. Despite the fact that he lost the last two presidential primaries and that his margin of loss increased from some 32 per cent in 2007 to 19 per cent in 2010, he is confident of making a good showing this time round and has called on party delegates to consider a moderate as the NPP’s flag bearer for the 2016 elections.
Dr Kofi Konadu Apraku, also a Minister of State in the Kufuor administration and Campaign Manager in Nana Akufo-Addo’s 2008 campaign and Director in charge of Intelligence and Security for the 2012 Nana Akufo-Addo Campaign, has also declared his intention to contest for the slot.
This will be his second attempt. He contested the 2007 presidential primary of the NPP that elected Nana Akufo-Addo for the 2008 presidential election and got 19 votes in a contest with 16 other presidential aspirants.
Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng who also contested in 2007 and 2010 told the Daily Graphic that although he had not declared his intention yet, he would not make a formal statement on phone.
Mr Stephen Asamoah-Boateng, one-time Minister of State whose name popped up during discussions on likely candidates of the NPP for the 2016 elections, told the Daily Graphic that he would make his intention known in the not-too-distant future.
Mr Kofi Osei Ameyaw, a Deputy Minister in the Kufuor regime and MP for Asuogyaman, has also hinted on various media platforms that a young person must be the face of the NPP in the next election and that when the time comes he will offer himself for consideration by the delegates.
Although Mr Isaac Osei, the MP for Subin and candidate in the 2010 flag-bearer race, has not spoken formally on the issue, some of his aides have indicated that the Subin MP will have a shot at the slot again.
Super delegates conference
There is no denying the fact that the NPP is heading towards a full-blown flag-bearer contest ahead of time.
Party insiders are predicting that many more aspirants will declare their intention to contest the flag-bearer race of the party for the 2016 elections.
According to the rules of the party, if more than five aspirants declare their intention, the party will organise a super delegates conference to prune down the number to five.
It is recalled that 17 aspirants filed to contest the flagbearership of the NPP in 2007, while five candidates contested in 2010.
For presidential primaries, the Electoral College of the NPP is wider and seeks to represent a larger proportion of the Ghanaian electorate.
The constitution of the party also demands that when the party is not in government, the national executive will organise a delegates conference to elect a flag bearer within 24 months of a national election.
The 24-month time frame has become necessary, since time is needed to heal wounds and for the winner to reconcile with those who will lose the contest and also offer the party and the elected flag bearer ample time to organise and prosecute an effective campaign for elections.
The NPP traditionally attracts between 40 and 44 per cent of popular votes.
But in view of the requirement of 50 per cent plus 1 of voters to win a presidential election, the party will need to attract floating voters to win the 2016 general election.
Already, after the party’s national delegates congress in Tamale, there is a media war among people perceived to be supporters of Nana Akufo-Addo, Mr Kyeremanten and Dr Apraku.
Some pundits are predicting that the flag-bearer race will be controversial, with some of the contestants throwing mud at one another.
While those on the side of Nana Akufo-Addo maintain that he remains the best candidate to lead the party to victory in 2016, those in the Kyeremanten and the Apraku camps believe Nana Akufo-Addo has outlived his usefulness as the NPP flag bearer.
Dr Apraku says he wants to be the flag bearer of the NPP because he can provide a crucial difference — attract floating voters.
In a statement to the Daily Graphic, he stated: "We don't have enough votes to win the elections ourselves and so invariably whoever is selected has to be the one who is capable of balancing and attracting floating voters."
Mr Kyeremanten believes that the party, at this current stage, needs to present a “modest” person as flag bearer for the 2016 general election.
The flag bearer hopeful argues: “We need to understand the Ghanaian voter psychology, particularly in presidential elections.”
“What are Ghanaians looking for in a President?” he wondered.
He further explained: “When I talk about understanding the voter psychology, we should not look at this in a negative sense. Maybe Ghanaians are looking for somebody who has a moderate disposition, has maybe a certain orientation which Ghanaians are interested in. It could be anything.”
According to Mr Kyeremanten, the party must do a scientific analysis to gauge the mood of what Ghanaians wanted in a President, since that would help the NPP elect someone who would be accepted by the voter population
When the Daily Graphic reached Mr Asamoah-Boateng, he stated: “There is nothing wrong with interested parties declaring their intention to contest the flag-bearer race of the party” but cautioned that “it is not time for flag-bearer contest”.
He challenged the newly elected NPP executive to immediately restructure the party from the grass roots, polling stations and constituency levels before going ahead with the flag-bearer contest.
But that suggestion has been strongly criticised by some members of the party, especially sympathisers of Nana Akufo-Addo, who argue that there is not much time for the NPP to go through this long-winding process.
In their view, it should be possible for the party leadership to come up with a timetable within three or four months for the party to organise a congress to elect a flag bearer for the 2016 polls.
They dismissed suggestions that the party was weak on the ground and, therefore, needed to be strengthened at the polling station level and insisted that the party’s representatives at the polling station levels rather needed education on electoral rules.
Avoid verbal wars
Considering the intemperate language and tone of the claims and counter-claims by some presidential aspirants, party insiders have called for restraint and calm, saying, “The in-fighting is very disturbing for the future of the NPP.”
Party members have, therefore, been urged to exercise emotional restraint towards those who have declared their intention or are yet to declare their intention to contest the flag-bearer slot.
Nana Akufo-Addo himself has told his followers to avoid verbal wars with internal opponents.
“I appeal to all NPP supporters to remain calm and focused and desist from actions that undermine the unity of the party,” he said in his Easter message to Ghanaians.
“In particular, I urge all NPP members who support my bid to lead the party for the 2016 elections not to be provoked by comments or actions and be dragged into any discourse that may damage the party’s forward march to victory. This is but a contest among members of one family, the Great Elephant Family. We must, therefore, be guided and guarded constantly by an uncompromising sense of unity, fellowship and greater purpose,” he implored NPP members.
Electoral plight of NPP
The recently elected 10-member national executive of the NPP, under the chairmanship of Mr Paul Awentami Afoko, has promised party members to prepare for government and political power.
But the party must come to terms with the hard reality that the 2016 elections are not going to be easy.
The NPP must never underestimate the herculean task ahead of it going into an election with a sitting president. For the NPP to make any headway in the 2016 elections and wrest political power from the National Democratic Congress (NDC), as promised by its new executive, there must be reconciliation, unity of purpose and all hands must be on deck.
Already, some schools of thought have opined that the NPP is losing its electoral appeal. It suffered two very close electoral defeats in the 2008 and the 2012 presidential polls. In 2008, Nana Akufo-Addo lost the run-off by about 40,000 votes. In 2012, he lost by more than 300,000 votes.
In the 2012 elections, the NPP again managed to secure victory in only two of the 10 regions. Significantly, the votes of the NDC in both NPP “World Banks” of the Ashanti and the Eastern regions have increased substantially. This means that NPP votes in the Eastern and the Ashanti regions are declining steadily.
The party is also facing difficulty making good in-roads in the Brong Ahafo, Central, Western and Greater Accra regions. In the parliamentary polls, the NPP performed poorer in 2012 than in 2008. In 2008, it got 128 Members of Parliament and had 123 in 2012.
This is the election story of the NPP as it gets ready for Election 2016.