Tis the season to be frantic

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
• A crowd of party supporters. Ghana needs a shorter campaign period
A crowd of party supporters. Ghana needs a shorter campaign period

With four weeks to go to polls, I am feeling quite exhausted. The campaign seems to have been going on forever. Pity the poor journalists who have to cover the campaign. The politicians simply craft a stump speech that can be delivered with slight variations at every stop, but how do you find a new angle to report every day or about 10 different stops in a day? 

In other parts of the world, there is an official campaign period for elections. This is the time when government activities are in purdah and in some jurisdictions, Parliament is dissolved and members of Parliament (MPs) lose the use of ‘MP’ after their names; ministers of state retain the title but are very careful about what they do and say that can be interpreted as party political. Civil servants have strict rules about what they can do and cannot do. The official campaign period also marks the start of party political broadcasts and intense advertising. 

In the United Kingdom, the official or unofficial campaign period is very short. In their elections from 1979 to the last one in 2015, the official campaign period lasted for 23 days and the longest was for 37 days, which was the 2015 election. 

In Ghana, there does not seem to be any official campaign period and we are engaged in a long distance race for physical and financial endurance. We seem to be in permanent campaign mode, once the results of the elections are announced, the campaign starts for the next one. 

Earlier in the year when the President of the Republic embarked on what looked and sounded to everybody as party political campaign, he told us that he wasn’t campaigning, but was engaged in something called, “Accounting to the People” tour around the country. 

I took this to mean he wanted to make a distinction between what he does as President John Mahama and what he does as Candidate John Mahama. President John Mahama would be featured on every news channel with his Green Book of phantom projects and when anybody should dare to question any statistics in the book, the President would say he should be believed because he is speaking as the President of Ghana. For reasons that are not quite clear to me, the President has got this strange idea that if he says something in his capacity as president, he cannot be challenged. 

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It is quite embarrassing to hear the President offer as proof for any claim he makes that he is president of Ghana. 

I was, therefore, thinking that when Candidate John Mahama took to the campaign trail with the manifesto of his political party, we would see a difference in the way he conducts himself and the things he would say. It seems candidate John Mahama wants to be accorded the same rights as President John Mahama. He will learn that will not happen. 

Some brave people suggested that whilst the Accounting to the People tour would be taxpayer funded, the campaign to be reelected as president would be funded by the National Democratic Congress (NDC). I did not hold my breath on that one and I suspect what the taxpayer pays for is not a consideration in our part of the world. 

I was thinking of starting a campaign for a short and official election campaign period but I fear it would be one of my doomed campaigns. These long election campaign periods seem to be very popular with the people of Ghana. Many would say there are very good reasons.

When else would big and important personalities arrive in your village bearing gifts and be so tolerant with all your requests? During which other period would chiefs be so busy receiving visitors in their palaces and being fawned so publicly?

Apart from Christmas, the election campaign period is the only season in which people feel able to demand things from total strangers without any compunction. Once you ask for votes, you can be asked for money over and over again.

Of all the things that politicians give out during the campaign period, the one that fascinates me the most is the party T-shirts. T-shirts are not exactly in the same league as sewing machines or outboard motors or cars, but they certainly add colour. I don’t have a good experience with party T-shirts. Back in 2004 when I was on my doomed mission to be elected as a member of Parliament for the Ho West constituency, party T-shirts formed a huge part of my expenditure. 

I did not understand why the T-shirts were in such high demand. This is a constituency where in the previous election in 2000, it was dangerous for anyone to be seen wearing New Patriotic Party (NPP) T-shirts and I was now under tremendous pressure to give T-shirts out to everybody. 

I should have realised there was something distinctly odd when I started getting demands for T-shirts from people outside my constituency. It struck me halfway through the campaign that the number of people wearing T-shirts with my image could not be an indication of how I was going to perform during the voting. Needless to say, I discovered some people wanted my T-shirts not to wear to display their loyalty to me and my party, but to put on scarecrows in their farms. 

Many years after those elections, my T-shirts were still being worn around the villages in the constituency and I thought I had set something of a record when I was sent a photo the other day of someone wearing my 2004 election T-shirt hundreds of miles away from the constituency, 12 years after the event.

Two weeks ago, I witnessed what must surely be the height of the cynicism that is now our politics. As I tried to take in the crowd that had turned out to our NPP rally in a town in the northern part of the Volta Region, I suddenly noticed a young man running towards the crowd. I must have noticed the young man was wearing an NDC T-shirt about the same time he noticed he was running into an NPP crowd.

He did not strike me as one of those who wanted to cause any trouble or make a point about being a loyal NDC person. I looked on as he took in the situation and as I watched, he took off the NDC T-shirt and there underneath it, was an NPP T-shirt. He folded the other one and stuffed it into his pocket and suddenly he smiled and melted into the crowd. 

I suppose both parties can claim that young man; the NDC can claim they are his default position, and the NPP can claim they are closest to his skin and his heart.

Maybe we should have a shorter campaign period; the President won’t be losing his voice and getting colds. A short frantic four weeks of campaigning is what we need.