Ghana’s seventh national polls in 2016 were hailed as a success, but a drop in voter turnout was a major feature of that election which has become a worry for political parties.
The 2016 election results indicated that nearly five million voters did not turn up to cast their ballots on Election Day, raising questions about voter interest in national elections.
That meant that out of the 15,712,499 registered voters on the register for that election, 10,931,071 voted, constituting a 68.62 per cent voter turnout, leaving close to five million voters not showing up to cast their ballots.
This year, there are 12 candidates on the presidential ballot. They are President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), former President John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Mr Christian Kwabena Andrews of the Ghana Union Movement (GUM), Mr Ivor Kobina Greenstreet of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), Madam Akua Donkor of the Ghana Freedom Party (GFP) and Dr Henry Herbert Lartey of the Great Consolidated Popular Party (GCPP).
The rest are Mr Hassan Ayariga of the All People’s Congress (APC), Mr Kofi Akpaloo of the Liberal Party of Ghana (LPG), Mr David Apasera of the People’s National Convention (PNC), Ms Brigitte Dzogbenuku of the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings of the National Democratic Party (NDP) and Mr Asiedu Walker, an independent candidate.
The parties have rekindled their campaigns after breaking for a week in honour of former President Jerry John Rawlings, who passed away on Thursday, November 12, this year.
Can the fact that we have the highest number of candidates on the presidential ballot this year help shore up votes in the 2020 election which is 14 days away, as the presidential candidates jostle to draw the highest number of votes?
From the perspective of the dominant opposition party, the NDC, they are set to galvanise the needed votes for victory in 2020.
The ruling NPP, however, is not leaving any stone unturned and is putting in every effort to increase its margin by over 1.5 million votes.
In the 2016 elections, the NPP garnered 5,755,758 votes against the NDC’s 4,711188 votes, leaving a difference of 984,570 votes in favour of the NPP.
General low turnout
A review of the numbers shows that the 2016 elections recorded low numbers for the two major political parties, the NPP and the NDC, across all the regions, when compared with their performance in 2012.
The NDC was, however, the worst hit in 2016, recording net losses in all the 10 regions, while the NPP made modest gains across all the regions, except the Greater Accra.
A Deputy General Secretary of the NDC, Mr Peter Boamah Otukunor, said the process to spark the enthusiasm of the electorate to turn up on Election Day to vote for the party was already in motion and he expressed the confidence that the party would record improved numbers in the December 7 polls.
“This is evident by the turnout of party supporters at our campaign events and activities,” he said.
Mr Otukunor, who doubles as the deputy campaign manager of the party, said the NDC anticipated a huge margin of victory in the December polls, based on the grass-roots work that it had done and how the campaign was enjoying massive support from the electorate.
The NPP, for its part, expects its incumbency to reflect in electoral dividends for the party on December 7.
A Communications team member of the NPP, Nana Akomea, said he was confident that the policies of the government would boost the NPP’s chances in the upcoming elections.
He mentioned the free senior high school (SHS) policy, the industrialisation drive, the digitisation of the economy and the current road infrastructure as the key programmes that would impact on the electoral chances of the NPP.
“Our free SHS policy is a way of sharing the oil dividends directly among the people and it is a fantastic way of sharing the national revenue,” he said.
“Our worry is not just about winning but also increasing the margin beyond the one million votes we had in 2019,” Nana Akomea, who is also the Managing Director of the STC, said.
Losses and gains
In the Eastern Region, which is a stronghold of the NPP, the party made some marginal gains, recording 678,514 votes in 2016, up from the 2012 figure of 626,893, thereby gaining some 51,621 more votes.
For the NDC, its votes dropped from 485,187 in 2012 to 397,786 in 2016, losing 87,401 votes.
The NDC’s 612,616 votes in the Ashanti Region in 2012 dropped to 503,368 in 2016, leaving a net loss of 109,248 for the party, while the NPP, which recorded 1,531,152 in 2012 in the same region, polled 1,642,288 in 2016, making a gain of 111,136 votes.
The NDC’s stronghold of the Volta Region was no different. The party recorded 734,641 in the region in 2012 but got 629,398 in 2016, dropping a significant 105,243 votes. The NPP, on other hand, increased its votes in the region from 111,149 in 2012 to 135,077 in 2016, making a gain of 23,928 votes.
Interestingly, the Greater Accra that is the major decider for the Presidency disappointed both parties in the 2016 elections with drops in votes for them. For instance, while the NDC polled 1,125,751 in 2012, the votes dropped to 946,048 in 2016, recording a net loss of 179,703 votes.
The NPP, however, made a net gain of 52,370 when it polled 1,062,157 in 2016, from 1,009,787 in 2012.
The situation in the Western Region was no different, with the NPP moving from 468,517 votes in 2012 to 526,159 in 2016, making a gain of 57,642 votes from the region.
It was again a net loss for the NDC in the Western Region, with its votes dropping from 582,193 in 2012 to 455,838 in 2016, losing 126,301 from the region.
A similar trend was observed in the then Brong Ahafo Region, where the NDC dropped significant votes of 68,455. The party’s votes reduced from 511,244 in 2012 to 442,789 in 2016.
For the NPP, it was glad tidings, as it increased its votes from 469,909 in 2012 to 531,147 in 2016 to gain 61,238 more votes from the region.
Another swing region, Central, also recorded some low numbers for the NDC, as it garnered 405,262 votes in 2016, down from the 492,374 in 2012, a loss of 87,112, while the NPP recorded 496,668 votes in 2016, up from the 2012 figure of 430,135, making a gain of 66,533.
In the Northern Region, which leans towards the NDC, it polled 587,783 votes in 2016, against the 2012 figure of 570,602, gaining some 17,181 votes, while the NPP, which polled 383,263 in 2012, raised its votes to 436,419 in 2016, gaining 53,156 more votes.
The Upper West Region followed a similar pattern when it gave the NDC 186,134 in 2012 but reduced it to 167,032 in 2016, resulting in a loss of 19,102 votes for the party, while the NPP made a gain of 19,745 after it increased its votes from 83,098 in 2012 to 102,843 in 2016.
The Upper East Region was, however, loyal to the NDC, as it increased its votes from 186,134 in 2012 to 271,796 in 2016, with a gain of 85,662 votes, while the NPP, which polled 83,098 in 2012, garnered 157,398 votes in 2016, recording a gain of 74,305.
A number of competing explanations can be put forward as accounting for the missing voters in 2016, particularly the close to one million votes that the NDC lost between 2012 and 2016.
A Senior Research Fellow and Head of Advocacy and Institutional Relations of the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG), Mr Kwesi Jonah, attributed the low voter turnout in 2016 to voter fatigue.
He said the electorate, after voting in six polls before 2016, had complained of lack of development dividend and so threatened to abstain from the elections, as they did not want to vote for other parties.
“It is up to the political parties to showcase their development programmes and what they have done in terms of development to ignite voter enthusiasm on Election Day,” he said.
Mr Jonah also charged the EC and the National Commission for Civic Education to intensify public education and awareness to rekindle voter enthusiasm.
But a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Sciences, University of Ghana, Dr Kwame Asah-Asante, said the political parties would succeed in encouraging their supporters to turn up on Election Day to cast their ballots if they were able to convince on how the victory of the party could transform their lives and standards of living.
"The parties should also help the National Commission for Civic Education and the EC to create the awareness and education to boost voter turnout," he said.
A former Senior Governance Advisor to the United Nations, Professor Baffour Agyemang-Duah, however, attributed the low turnout to voter apathy in NDC strongholds, the removal of ghost names from the voters register and the tightening of the electoral process.
“In other words, people had grown discontent with the political system and decided to withdraw their participation to register their fatigue and anxiety,” he told the Daily Graphic.
It was tempting to conclude that potential NDC voters just decided not to vote because they were dissatisfied with the performance of the government, he said.
At the same time, while they failed to vote massively for the NDC, they did not also vote for the NPP.
“This relates to two of the proposed explanations to the missing vote — either those voters genuinely existed but failed to vote in 2016 as a sign of dissatisfaction with the government's performance, or they were ‘ghosts’ or foreigners who could not find their way to the polling stations in 2016 due to the strengthening of the electoral processes,” he said.