The NPP problem of electoral awkwardness; Any historical roots?

BY: Jasmine Arku
Kwabena Agyepong, The General Secretary of the NPP

This is, admittedly, an explosive headline. It assumes the New Patriotic Party ( NPP), which claims to be the oldest political tradition in the country, tracing a direct line from the United Gold Coast Convention(UGCC) of August 1947, has a problem of popular acceptability in our politics in spite of its age, and therefore, its assumed experience in the specific circumstances of Ghanaian politics. The truth of the matter is that, in spite of this longevity, the tradition has not had an enviable run of electoral successes to its vintage record.

Of course, I have some experience in this kind of historical analysis of the tradition. I was chosen by the UGCC 50th anniversary committee of the NPP to deliver the lecture on the history and founding of the UGCC in August 1997, to mark the anniversary by the present party of its past. I was even the secretary of that committee. I remember this very paper took me on for stating in two lines out of an 11-page lecture that Kwame Nkrumah

Choosing leaders in NPP

My remit this week is narrower but more relevant than the mere ideological preferences of the tradition the NPP proudly claims as its own. For the record, I do not accept now that the NPP is in anyway related to the UGCC of old, but an explanation for this would not be allowed to detain me today. The defunct National Liberation Movement, founded in September 1954, could be more accurately described and analysed as the forerunner of today’s NPP.

What is the problem of the NPP? It is simply this; the rank and file of party loyalists have since 1954, in its several manifestations, privileged political experience over and above any other qualification for electoral power, and the party has fumbled its way to defeat so many times since then that one would be remiss in analysing this party’s chances without factoring in the above observation. In point of fact, the NPP historically and up to the present, has always chosen its leaders without reference to the sensibilities of the electorate, and expressed surprise when Ghanaian voters reject the party’s choice for the top office in the land, as the record clearly shows.

One thing that stands out in the record is the obstinate insistence of party faithful choosing the experienced contender over the internal party competition without regard to what the opposing parties, and the country at large, would say or find to say about the chosen person who always has a record open to attack and destruction. After the elections, voices of wonder proliferate, surprised that the overqualified so and so candidate was rejected by the gullible electorate who did not appreciate what was good for them. But is this a valid and realistic way of analysing defeat you have invited by specifically choosing people easy to defeat?

Experience

Experience is definitely good in seeking leadership for a country, but a terrible teacher in winning elections, without which, the good of experience, no matter how relevant, would not be enjoyed. No matter how experienced one is, it is only electoral acceptability and victory which would allow its fruits to be reaped by the electorate. In fact in modern times, we all have seen that experience in, and of, itself without charisma has been put on the backburner in Western societies, and electability brought to the fore in leadership considerations by both party and nation.

This explains the emergence of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron in British politics, all of whom were not defined as holders of great cabinet positions such as Exchequer, Foreign or Home affairs in their climb to the top.  Or of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama in the United States. Their identification as convinced ideologues of their parties was sufficient for both party and nation.

Could it be that this fixation with the old modes of assessing party leadership is the electoral bane of the historical and current party? It is my opinion that Dr Lutterodt’s attempt to revive the CPP in 1969, banned by the National Liberation Council, would not have succeeded in making any headway against Dr Kofi Busia’s Progress Party because the latter had the record of opposition to Nkrumah boosting his party to victory. But the lessons from the Acheampong coup have never been imbibed by either the Popular Front Party (PFP) and the United National Convention (UNC), both of whom chose over-experienced past politicians to vie, unsuccessfully, for the top post.

Pleasing  the Ghanaian voter

My reason for this is the obvious one; the Union government referendum, in spite of claims to the contrary, was won by General Acheampong. The civilians who assisted in the YES victory all found themselves in the subsequent People’s National Party of Dr Hilla Limann. The rest, as they say, is history.

How did this happen? Observers all assumed that the division of the front of the pre-NPP forces into the PFP of Victor Owusu and the UNC of Paa Willie Ofori-Atta was responsible as if President Limann had no electoral strengths at all, and also that his party would not be an interested party in the divisions in the ranks of the opposition. Such assumptions are what have trapped the NPP of today, and since then, into the false certitude when choosing leaders, when the overriding concern of voters for leaders they would be comfortable with should be paramount, bar none.

If the Ghanaian voter feels uncomfortable with an aspiring leader, trotting out his qualifications would make no difference. Comparisons, internally and internationally are even more farcical. The current comparison by age alone with the Nigerian experience is one such. President Muhammadu Buhari is actually the nearest the Nigerians had had to former President Rawlings as far as Nigerian politics is concerned. This portrayal failed to do the trick in 2012. Pleasing the voters of Ghana has been rocket science in the NPP, inscrutable to the party faithful, but plain as day to the ordinary Ghanaian voter.