NDC primaries, matters arising
Last Saturday, May 13, 2023, Ghana’s main opposition political party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), held its primaries to select a flag bearer and parliamentary candidates for the 2024 election. A few days before the scheduled date, it was not certain whether the primaries would proceed as planned or not. One of the contestants in the flag bearer race, Dr Kwabena Duffuor, sought an injunction to restrain the party from moving ahead with the primaries till a number of concerns raised by his campaign team were resolved.
Following a meeting with the party’s leadership and representatives from the various campaign teams in the flagbearer race, the Electoral Commission (EC) announced that they would not supervise the elections until all legal challenges had been resolved.
In the end, the suit was withdrawn. Not only that; Dr Duffuor withdrew from the race. The EC proceeded to supervise the primaries which were generally conducted peacefully and successfully.
In the lead-up to the primary, I pondered what the NDC party delegates would be seeking in a flag bearer. Firstly, I believed that as delegates considered their options, the overriding question was, “Which candidate is best positioned to lead the party to victory in the next election?” To answer this question, delegates needed to weigh the political assets and liabilities of each of the candidates. Among the three – well, ultimately two choices delegates had, former President John Mahama stood tall because of one crucial political asset - experience.
He entered the race with both executive (as a president, vice-president and minister) and legislative experience as a former Member of Parliament. He had, therefore, participated in the governance of the country from two important institutional vantage points of leadership.
Another important political asset he brought to the race was his commitment to the party which he had maintained in good and bad times.
As a keen observer of Ghanaian politics, it was quite remarkable to see the mileage accumulated by his campaign as he visited all regions and constituencies, cultivating the necessary relationships with party members. Clearly, the relationships he was cultivating, and deepening went beyond his desire to win the primary. More importantly, it served as an indication of a commitment to present a party read/y to wrestle power from its main political rivals.
The public discourse compared the flag bearer race to a coronation. Be that as it may, as a candidate waiting for his coronation, he surely did not take the party delegates for granted.
Nevertheless, he had to contend with his history of leading the party into elections as its flag bearer – one win (2012), one accepted loss (2016) and one disputed loss (2020). I must however note that the political landscape he had to contend with in 2016 and 2020 were different and will be different in 2024.
Save for a miracle, I did not see anyone emerging as the party’s flag bearer and truly when it was all over, the former president won 98 per cent of the votes cast.
Now the question is, who will the NPP select to run against him? In November, we will know the answer.
Often in primaries, the flag bearer race tends to overshadow the parliamentary primaries. This year, however, I observed that the parliamentary primaries took on a different level of importance. Considering the almost evenly matched parliament, and the near contentious nature of trying to pass key legislation, ensuring a solid majority, and having the right candidates to do that, was surely on the minds of delegates.
Some incumbents went uncontested, some retained while others were replaced. Ultimately, the hope of the party, I am certain, is that the parliamentary candidates who prevailed are those who can guarantee it the needed solid majority to win the 2024 election.
Indeed, party primaries are very competitive. Inadvertently, the competition may produce some grievances in the process which can linger on when the contest ends. I always say to political parties that manner in which these grievances are addressed post-primaries is crucial. Every party wants one thing – unity as they go into an election. However, there are things that can chip away at that unity. Hopefully, with the primaries over, the party can march forward in unison as it tries to unseat the incumbent in the 2024 general election. This is where the onus is on the party leadership to smoothen any rough edges that may have emerged during the primaries.
As the flag bearer said,“from today, right here, in this hall of the University for Development Studies, I declare that the internal competition for the Flag bearer position is over” and proceeded to advise “We must flip the coin from competition to cooperation. We need cooperation to build a better Ghana and a better NDC.”
Kudos to the NDC for a successful primary.
The writer is a fellow of Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana).