Election 2020: A battle of records?

BY: Rodney Nkrumah Boateng
 A voter casting her vote
A voter casting her vote

Ghana has had several bitterly fought general elections since independence. Indeed, even before independence, each of the 1951, 1954 and 1957 elections came with its own drama, with the Convention People’s Party (CPP) winning all three.

I was a mere toddler during the 1969 elections which ushered in the Progress Party with Dr K.A Busia as Prime Minister.
And so everything I know about these elections was gleaned from my studies in Government in secondary school and Political Science at the university.
But I did witness the 1979 campaign and elections which came on the back of J.J Rawlings’ fiery 1979 coup and its bloody three-month ‘house-cleaning’ exercise and ushered in the short-lived Third Republic under the People’s National Party (PNP) and President Hilla Limann.
I was only 11-years-old and had not entered secondary school, meaning any politician campaigning in schools would have missed me.
But I remember learning to sing every party’s campaign song, from Limann’s PNP to Victor Owusu’s Popular Front Party (PFP) to Paa Willie’s United National Convention (UNC) and the rest.
And I remember the independent candidates, especially Diamond Addy and Kwame Nyanteh.
I remember the TV and radio adverts and really enjoyed them even though I did not support any party and was too young to sensibly do so-such support would have been impotent anyway, given that I did not have a vote.
Fourth Republic
Fast forward to the Fourth Republic and it was obvious who would win the first elections in 1992.
After all, no African leader who had metamorphosed from dictator to democrat and stood in the elections organised under his watch had lost, and there was no reason to believe Ghana would depart from this ‘host and win’ model.
The prospect of Jerry Rawlings losing in 1996 was quite unimaginable and I am sure the NPP knew this. But both elections were exciting in their own rights, with protests and boycotts et al.
With the charismatic and popular Jerry Rawlngs off the ballot paper in 2000 by way of constitutional limits imposed on him, the race was open, stiff and heady in its own right.
For the first time in this country, an opposition party dislodged the ruling party from office and John Agyekum Kufuor of the NPP became President.

Following the National Democratic Congress (NDC’s) precedent, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) easily retained power in 2004 as expected, only for history to repeat itself with the NDC opposition snatching power from the ruling NPP, the peerless John Kufuor having exited the race by way of constitutional limits.
Again, the 2008 election was seismic and bitterly fought, putting the NPP in a state of shock.
Of course, many expected the NDC to rule for eight years because this was becoming quite a pattern. And this actually came to pass, but not without incident.
Following the death of President Mills months before the 2012 elections,  Vice-President John Dramani Mahama took over and led the NDC into victory at the elections.
 
Thus, whilst the NDC did rule for eight years before being thrown out by the NPP, we now had the unique situation, at the 2016 elections, of an incumbent President who was seeking his second term in office,  and yet whose party had ruled for two terms.
The then President’s campaign team sought to rely, in part, on the two-term presidencies of his Fourth Republic predecessors (bar Prof.
Mills, of course) to literally request a second term for him, whilst the then opposition sought to focus on the fact that the NDC had been in power for eight years and that ‘time aso’ (time is up), in sync with precedent and norm.
Those dynamics, among others such as the role of social media, all fed into the bubbling political cauldron in the build-up to the bitterly-fought 2016 elections.
For the very first time in our political history, a sitting President was defeated in his bid to seek re-election and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo became President.
2020 elections 
Now we are on course for the 2020 elections, and campaign has all but started.
Again, these elections will throw up an interesting and very unique set of dynamics.
When (not if) Mr Mahama officially becomes the NDC’s 2020 candidate by sweeping aside the 11 or so other candidates with the ease of a gentle wind blowing aside a flimsy shack, we will have an ex-President campaigning to get his job back.
What this means is that in 2020, President Akufo-Addo and ex-President Mahama would have had the benefit of running this country for four years each.
Voters will ,therefore, be in a unique position of comparing their actual records on the economy, education, health, agriculture, manufacturing, corruption and other important indicators.
Of course elections focus on promises captured in manifestoes and no doubt each of the two candidates would be making promises.
But those promises would have to be anchored in their respective records against earlier promises to test the credibility of those promises.
 
I believe the NDC, with candidate Mahama, will have its challenges trying to persuade the Ghanaian voter to bring him back to office, having suffered such a huge loss in 2016.
The voter, taking into account whatever reason made the party lose, is entitled to ask “what has changed?” The former President has admitted to a number of errors which he seeks to right.
Whether the voter will nod and say with his/her thumb “Come back to office, John, and sin no more” is a question that can only be answered on December 7, 2020.
The former President, if he wins in 2020, would be setting a proud record that would assuage his angst over his unhappy record of being the country’s first one-term President, even though he would be constitutionally barred from seeking re-election in 2024 after serving one term as President between 2012 and 2016.
In Africa, I believe it is only Mathieu Kerekou of Benin who holds the comeback record. As incumbent President,he was defeated in general elections in 1991 and came back to win the presidency five years later.
I suppose the former President draws inspiration from him.
Of course, the NPP would be naïve to go into the election rubbing its belly button complacently.
The NDC is a formidable party and is waking up after its initial shock at losing the 2016 elections.
It cannot and should not be taken for granted. Of course the NDC will argue that the NPP has failed people and has not lived up to its promises.
And as the President admitted the other day, there are economic difficulties. The NDC will naturally seek to exploit these.
 
I do sincerely believe the NPP will retain power, these difficulties notwithstanding.
I believe this government has a stronger record and offers better opportunities to Ghanaians, but it has to work extra hard to improve the lives of our citizens in practical terms.
Doing so will be its biggest campaign tool.
I do not hold much store for incumbency advantage, because after all, President Mahama had all its advantages and yet lost.
The Ghanaian voter is increasingly more discerning, and there is a unique opportunity for each of the two main Election 2020 candidates to campaign on their four-year records and nothing else.
I hope this will displace the nasty tribal overtures, personal attacks, insults and dirty propaganda that have characterised our politics for far too long and debased it, turning the political space into a bear pit where only those with hides as tough as the rhinoceros’ dare.
And hopefully, that displacement should mark the start of a paradigm shift in our national life.
By Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
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