Notorious facts about the 4th Republican presidential contests in NPP and NDC

BY: Colin Essamuah

“There was a time when the NPP had 17 presidential contestants. This time, the NDC is heading in that direction. Why are people wasting their time and money when they know that they don’t have a chance?..... My brother, you know that apart from the advantages President John Dramani Mahama has over all other candidates, you have a disadvantage — another northerner? Oh no! It is either Mahama or no other northerner, not this time. You have been in politics for a long time and you know better than me. Of course, if you are doing this because you are looking for a vice presidential position, then I can understand.’’ - Vitus Azeem.

The above quotation from Vitus Azeem, the noted anti-corruption campaigner, led me to the subject of today’s epistle; the meanings to be attached to presidential declarations in the opposition NDC and their place in our Fourth Republican politics since 1992.

Twenty-six years is a good and reliable stretch of time to locate similarities and differences in how the Ghanaian party animal in both parties view and decide matters at the primary level, especially since our 1992 Constitution has not undergone any major revisions or amendments regarding how we choose candidates and elect presidents.

The generally-expected winning candidate, former President John Mahama, has finally declared at the time of writing this, but it does not in any way detract from my thinking today on the subject and the vigorous campaigns in the media and on the ground. My whole piece today may well be described as disaggregating the Azeem quotation from the perspective of 26 successful years of electoral politics in this country.

Ethnic balance

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The very first truism since 1992 is the question of the ethnic balance of the ticket. Our two major parties, NDC and NPP, have since then chosen an Akan candidate and a non-Akan running mate and vice versa depending on circumstances.

This is a carry-over from the Third Republic when we began American-style executive presidential-style politics in earnest.

President Hilla Limann’s Vice President was Professor J.W.S. de-Graft Johnson of the ruling People’s National Party, Victor Owusu had Alhaji Yakubu Tali, the Tolon-Na, as his running mate for the Popular Front Party, and William ‘Paa Willie’ Ofori-Atta had Alhaji Iddrissu Mahama, now an NDC grandee, as his running mate.

The only time this mould was broken was in 1993 when President Rawlings chose Kow Nkensen Arkaah as his running mate. The late Vice President was an ethnic Guan from Senya Beraku now virtually Akanised/Fantelised but the charisma of President Jerry Rawlings carried the day for the NDC. I can stretch out my neck to say that no presidential candidate will try this any time soon.

The second observation is that the energies, resources and time spent on presidential primaries are so tasking that party voters are not willing to consider new candidates in the next primary season, the candidate wins the presidency and he is repeated as a matter of course, serves out his two terms, or dies in office.

Hence Presidents John Evans Atta Mills and Nana Akufo-Addo being third time winners of the prize after two earlier unsuccessful attempts. Each succeeding primary, his votes increases, not falls. A candidate fielded in general elections would be tried again and again till he wins or quits himself. It is only NPP’s Professor Albert Adu Boahen who broke this mould; he lost his next primary to former President J.A. Kufuor in 1996, and faded from the scene.

Again, once party faithful have chosen a candidate, they will rely heavily on the advice and direction of the candidate or president regarding the next candidate. One would have thought the presence of a Vice President would have made this problem go away as is the practice so far in the NDC.

The unexpected death of former Vice President Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur opens up this problem for the NDC. `The victory of ex-Foreign Minister now President Akufo-Addo in 2007 primaries broke the mould in NPP but has not really resolved this for the NPP after President Akufo-Addo is done.

This is the relevance of the Azeem reference to be running mate. This in effect means, in our part of the world, that it is safer to go with the popular choice even if one has ambitions for the top prize or anything else in the event of victory. It is realpolitik Ghana style.

One may say this is unfortunate and that others must have the opportunity to serve, promote democracy etcetera. The decision makers are party faithful, and in typical Ghanaian fashion, a chief is not easily destooled except for very grave reasons.

It is the same everywhere in electoral politics. Macron had credibility on the French Left from serving in the Hollande government earlier. President Trump knew that he had to do something extraordinary to win the primaries so he badmouthed his Republican adversaries to victory. This cannot happen in Ghana any time soon. Heseltine, a cabinet member, quit and challenged Margaret Thatcher, and lost eventually to Thatcher’s candidate, John Major, for the leadership of the Tories and the premiership in 1990 in the United Kingdom.

Party voters everywhere go for change reluctantly because at bottom, they will forcefully argue, we are all members of one party. These considerations have nothing to do with the concerns of the challenging aspirant regarding suitability, electability or availability of other aspirants, whether valid or not.

Once you are chosen and are willing, you have a base of unshaken rock solid support. I was recently discussing with a good reflective friend if Victor Owusu could ever have won elections in the Third Republic. Seeing that current politicians have said worse than he ever did and won in the Fourth Republic, the answer was obvious.

This is the advantage of former President Mahama who is poised to make history again in his political career. The dramatic victory of President Akufo-Addo denied him his consecutive second term. Contrary to popular belief, we vote for individuals to be President, not party. An independent candidate can win, as in Benin with Yaya Boni recently.

Kamikaze politics

Thirdly is the aspirants themselves. Apart from President Mahama who has joined the race, none of them is talking about national problems. Deputy Speaker Bagbin is doing kamikaze politics, virtually attacking the very party he wishes to lead.

This is puzzling since we will elect a President of Ghana in December 2020, the endgame of current politicking.

Goosie Tanoh is interesting; Reform Party and no public office at home? The Trump non-experience in Ghana?

The rest are in it just to be noticed in my view. The NPP has the presidency for now so seemingly at peace but their time would definitely come because that is the nature of our political system. No party will escape internal contests.

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