Former President John Mahama
Former President John Mahama

Former President Mahama’s search for a second term

“I entered public service out of a genuine desire to help make a difference in the lives of our people.

My vision for this country is to create a conducive national environment in which our children grow happily into responsible adults; where workers are proud to work and defend our national values; where improved maternal health reduces the hazards of childbearing; where teachers use their influence to positively mould the next generation; a Ghana in which we all create and share in the benefits.

 John Dramani Mahama, State of The Nation Address delivered to the 6th parliament of the 4th Republic, Thursday, February 21, 2013.  

I often observed a man who spoke eloquently and with deep understanding of the socio-economic and governance challenges facing Ghana and the rest of the sub region.

Whenever I listened to his interviews or speeches, I always walked away saying to myself that “this is a man who gets it.”

 On Friday, September 27, 2013, I had the opportunity of attending an event at New York University’s Africa House where he was the guest of honour.

He read excerpts of his book “My First Coup d’Etat” and took questions from the audience on a wide range of governance issues facing Ghana.

 I walked away with the same impression – a man who understood the issues, knew the solutions and articulated them very well.

First Presidency

As the years wore on his presidency (January 7th, 2013, through January 7, 2017), I struggled to reconcile the impression I had of him and the challenges his presidency faced, which culminated in a historic first term loss for a sitting president in our Fourth Republic.

The results of the 2016 election, though historic, did not surprise many keen political observers like me.

 There is little doubt about the extremely difficult political terrain he faced as he sought re-election.

Two things from that loss caught my attention.

First was the changing perception of his performance as president. In Afrobarometer 2014, four out of ten (36 per cent) Ghanaians approved of his job performance.

 In July 2016 when CDD-Ghana conducted its first pre-election survey, his approval rating (48 per cent) had improved by twelve percentage points over the 2014 number.

In October 2016, the final CDD-Ghana pre-election survey saw his approval rating improve further by five percentage points, ending at 53 per cent going into the general election.

Ghanaian perceptions were changing, but not at the pace needed to turn the political winds around in his favour. In short, it was too late to save his presidency.

Second is what his voters said was their main reason for choosing him as their preferred candidate in 2016. Exit polls are not a feature of our elections but in Afrobarometer Round 7, 2017, survey respondents were asked to indicate the main reason for their choice of presidential candidate in the 2016 election from a list of seven reasons.

Among those who indicated in the survey that they voted for President Mahama, 53 per cent said their main reason was “the ability of the candidate to better manage the affairs of the country.” This was quite at odds with the election narrative.

In 2018, August 23 to be precise, the former president announced another run for the party’s leadership and presidency, saying among other things that “I owe a duty to God and my country to take our great party back into government, to right the wrongs of the past and to put an end to the cries of the people under the current dispensation.” 

Search for second term

The 2020 political terrain was still not very friendly to the former president.

The positive perceptions of the Akufo-Addo government in Afrobarometer 2017 had witnessed an initial decline by Afrobarometer 2019.

However, by election 2020 the Akufo-Addo government had regained a lot of the lost ground (see CDD-Ghana pre-election survey, October 2020). 

So although his (Mahama) performance overall improved and his party did well in the parliamentary elections, the search for a second presidential term still fell short.

President Mahama awaits confirmation of who his main challenger will be for the 2024 election.

 Come November 4, once the New Patriotic Party’s primary is done, he will know who. I still say his opponent will be Dr Bawumia.

The political winds have shifted.

The incumbent party (NPP) faced a very friendly political terrain as the main opposition party in 2016. 

It also faced a less difficult political terrain as the incumbent in 2020 compared to what President Mahama faced in 2016.

Granted the NPP had a different candidate in both elections than it would have in 2024.

Well, let’s wait for November 4 and the confirmation of my prediction that Dr Bawumia will face off against President John Mahama in 2024.
 The writer is a Democracy and Development Fellow at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana).

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