Ghana goes to the polls for presidential and parliamentary elections on 7 December for its seventh multi-party ballot since the end of military rule in 1992. The presidential race is expected to be a closely fought contest between incumbent President John Dramani Mahama and opposition challenger Nana Akufo-Addo. Ghana is frequently described as one of the most stable democracies in West Africa and has witnessed several peaceful transfers of power.
Incumbent Mahama assumed the presidency in July 2012 following the death of former president John Atta Mills. The National Democratic Congress (NDC) party flag bearer then went on to win the December 2012 election beating Akufo-Addo with 50.7 per cent of the vote.
Akufo-Addo, head of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), is making his third attempt at the country’s top job having lost in his bid for the presidency in 2008 and 2012. He served as foreign minister under President John Kufuor from 2003 to 2007 and trained as a lawyer before becoming a politician.
The economy has emerged as one of the main issues in election campaigning – “people are really having to deal with a terrible economy in terms of high inflation and high unemployment,” says Kofi Bentil from the Imani think-tank.
Last year Ghana was forced to take an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout for almost one billion dollars. Inflation was more than 17 per cent in 2015, according to the IMF, while economic growth was less than 4 per cent.
Ghana is considered one of sub-Saharan Africa’s middle income countries, however that status could be under threat and “in recent years the economic situation in Ghana has deteriorated quite markedly,” according to Joel Toujas-Bernate, the IMF mission chief.
Akufo-Addo’s manifesto is entitled “Change – An Agenda for Jobs” and the NPP candidate describes his vision of Ghana as a country in which “economic opportunities for all, irrespective of their background”.
Mahama is campaigning on the basis of “Putting People First” by improving education, providing reliable healthcare and looking out for the most vulnerable in society. He talks about “maintaining prudent monetary” policies and attracting investment.
But policy may not be the most important factor in voters’ decision making process. “Both parties are not being too heavy on policy because they’re realising that the vast majority of people do not relate very well to it,” says Imani’s Bentil.
The 2016 election is likely to be a tight race between the two main contenders and there is the real prospect of a second round run-off vote. “If you look at the trend of elections from 1992 to now, you realise that any time an incumbent goes for a second term the incumbent decreases the percentage of vote they won the first time,” Edward Brenya, political analyst, Kwame Nkrumah University, told RFI.
With the difficult economic situation the power of incumbency gives Mahama less of an advantage, according to analyst Brenya. “Since people have less of a hope than they used to have in the first term then normally you see that it translates into their votes,” he says.
A number of Ghana’s regions are traditionally seen as strong support bases for the two main parties. The eastern Volta region traditionally supports the NDC, while the Ashanti region throws its weight behind the NPP.
However, the role of undecided voters may be more important in determining the winner of the polls. “Ghana has proven in the past that there is a small but influential proportion of swing voters who can carry the result in either party’s direction,” says a research note by Africa Practice, a London-based advisory firm.
“The parties are pretty well entrenched in terms of their own support bases. So you can expect that each party will get 40 per cent almost guaranteed and the [remaining] 20 per cent is going to be the group that will really determine who wins this election,” says Imani’s Bentil.
There are 22 other parties contesting the polls besides the NDC and NPP, according to Ghana’s Electoral Commission website. In the last elections, Paa Kwesi Nduom of the Progressive People’s Party took 0.58 per cent of the presidential election and Henry Herbert Lartey, head of the Great Consolidated Popular Party, secured 0.35 per cent of the ballots. Some experts suggest that Ghana’s political system has effectively become a two-party system.
“Ghana, like the US, has come to have two parties that increasingly split the vote almost exactly in half,” writes Sean Hanretta, an expert in Ghanaian history from Northwestern University, on the Africa is a Country website. He says this encourages the “professionalisation of politics and electoral strategies” leading to the coming together of the two main parties.
Preparations for the polls
“The electoral commission has prepared well, they’re doing everything it takes to ensure that we can have a free and fair election,” says Kwame Nkrumah University analyst Brenya.
There was an issue in recent months when the Electoral Commission disqualified a number of presidential candidates for not adhering to the correct process for submitting nominations. Only four candidates were accepted out of 17. Later after re-submitting their nomination forms the Electoral Commission deemed seven candidates eligible to stand in the polls.
The Electoral Commission has also spent time this year cleaning the voters register. Ghana uses a biometric system for registering voters and following a case at the Supreme Court the commission began a process of removing ineligible voters such as dead people, those registered at multiple locations, alleged minors and foreigners.
- 15,703,890 registered voters
- 28,992 polling stations
- 275 parliamentary seats
- 24 political parties
- 7 presidential candidates