Internal party competition: Ignoring underhyped danger?
The Kumawu by-election was on May 23, 2023 successfully conducted with the New Patriotic Party’s (NPP’s) candidate, Ernest Yaw Annim, undoubtedly securing what could be described rightly as a landslide victory.
That by-election is now over but some issues need to be looked at.
The election can be described as the best among recent by-elections, in terms of how peacefully it was conducted. However, the issue of vote buying is among the key things that should not be swept under the carpet.
But what is being highlighted today is the silent issue of internal party acrimony which is a defect of the lack of internal party democracy in our political parties. Yes, conflict —expressed in the form of incompatible goals can manifest when two people want different things — is part of human institutions and can be deemed normal in political parties. What is vital is, perhaps, what was publicly expressed when Alan Kyerematen was defeated by then candidate Nana Akufo-Addo in the NPP’s presidential primary ahead of the 2016 elections. He remarked in Accra that in our party, we believe in competition, after that cooperation. This is the way to go in a democracy.
Unfortunately, the above is diametrically opposed to the reality of our internal party contest and the associated acrimony. Tributes from Parliament for the late Kumawu MP, Philip Basoah, by his colleagues, were touching as they pointed to the pain harboured by the late MP because of how internal party politics had a toll on his political and psychological well-being.
The dangers of internal party acrimony can be very damaging to the health of any political party or its members. It can corrode trust, lead to a lack of cohesion and create an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust among members. In extreme cases, it has even led to splits within parties, as was the case in the circumstances leading to the formation of the National Democratic Party, the Reform Party and the United Ghana Movement.
Internal party acrimony can start with seemingly small disputes over minor points of disagreement such as whose time or turn it is to contest at primaries, which can grow into more significant divisions. It can be fuelled by disagreements on factionalism/camps, ethnicity, or even personality conflicts. When these disputes become bitter and protracted, they can damage the reputation of the candidates and extend to the political party.
The most effective way to combat internal party acrimony, with devastating effects on the individual, as was the case of the late Basoah, is through open communication. Political parties should encourage their members to speak out when they disagree and to have constructive conversations about issues pertaining to the operations of their party.
Executives at all levels should work to promote an atmosphere of understanding, where individual views are respected and valued. If a dispute arises, which is inevitable, it is important to find a solution that works for all parties involved, rather than exacerbating the tension, harbouring bitterness, and seeking revenge.
Ultimately, internal party acrimony is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Taking proactive steps to prevent it can create a healthier environment and enable the political parties to focus on achieving their goals which include nurturing democratic values, professing alternative ideas to the rulers, and winning elections.
Internal party bitterness can have serious psychological effects on unfairly treated candidates with irreversible consequences. The feeling of betrayal or being let down by the very people a candidate thought had their best interests in mind can be devastating, by all standards. This can lead to feelings of resentment, hopelessness, helplessness, and even despair; in fact, it is akin to a betrayal from home. This can also lead to a lack of trust in those who were once seen as allies and thus making the working environment poisonous.
Furthermore, when a candidate’s loyalty and hard work are not recognized or rewarded by his/her own party, it can demoralise them and cause them to lose focus in life.
For political parties, internal party acrimony can have serious electoral effects. When candidates are unfairly treated, it can lead to a lack of party unity and cohesion which can weaken the party’s image in the eyes of voters, and this was manifested in the votes garnered by the late Philip Basoah in the 2020 elections compared to the votes his party’s presidential candidate secured. In a stronghold, core voters may not leave a party due to internal disputes but protest votes are guaranteed.
Internal party acrimony can be resolved through effective communication, compromise and reconciliation. It is important for all members of political parties to understand the importance of civility in diversity and mutual respect in resolving internal disagreements. Party executives, especially at the national level, must prioritise the concerns of all party members and ensure that everyone's voice is heard, after all, every vote counts.
The writer is a Lecturer, Department of Political Science Education,University of Education, Winneba.