Watching an election

27 12 2008

I was going to write about the election. I’d thought I’d have something insightful to say but really it seems a bit odd commenting from Britain, plus I realise that I’m an outside observer, shielded from the intricacies of the situation. Much of what I could write might be patronising. The bare facts are that the election in Ghana on December 7th went well, albeit without a final result in the presidential election. Interestingly there was a difference in the split of the vote between the presidential and parliamentary races, meaning that electors voted differently in each. Other interesting (to me anyway) facts were that ministers from the outgoing administration lost their parliamentary seats and the two main parties got nearly 98% of the vote, leaving the remaining 6 parties scrabbling to save what face they could.

A bit of history and background (skip the next two paragraphs if you already know this stuff). In 1991 the then leader of the military government, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, wrote a new constitution which specified 4 yearly elections and a two term limit on the presidency and mandated that if no presidential candidate won 50% of the vote in the initial election there would be a run off between the two leading candidates. The first such election was won by Jerry Rawlings (now out of uniform) in 1992. He also won the 1996 election and duly stood down in 2000. In a close election, which went to a second round, the then opposition won and Jerry Rawling’s party (the NDC) went peacefully into opposition – a peaceful, democratic change of government which oughtn’t be remarkable but sadly is. The new president was Dr John Kufor who went on to win again in 2004 and is standing down after these elections.

The two main parties are the New Patriotic Party (NPP), in power 2000 – 2008 and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) – Jerry Rawling’s party which ruled 1992 – 2000. The collection of other parties haven’t really mattered, they have a smattering of parliamentary seats but can make quite a lot of noise. In a coincidental echo of UK politics the NDC is slightly left of centre and gets most of its support in the north of the country while the NPP is slightly right of centre and is supported in the more prosperous south.

To be honest I’m not really clear what differences there really are between the main parties. There’s a lot of hot words spoken but the reality is that the NDC was forced into privatisations and market reforms, and the NPP has carried on with some of the NDC’s reforms. The truth is that both parties are limited in the scope of what they can do by the economic, political and global realities, much like democratic parties anywhere in the world. Both seem to be lead by able and decent men so overall Ghana should benefit from whomever gets elected. As anywhere there probably is an element of corruption and patronage within all parties, but in a month that’s seen the Governor of Illinois arrested I feel nervous about casting stones.

The differences from a UK election are superficial but glaring, mostly to Ghana’s advantage. The best aspect is the level of political engagement. The idea of English voters scurrying home to watch an election debate, much less discussing it the next day seems unlikely. The debate is widespread, vociferous and generally good natured and takes place in bus stations and bars as well as the work place. Granted some of the discussions may have consisted of people all talking loudly at the same time but none the less each held a political opinion that they wanted to share, which is more than can be said for most British voters. The press has been vocal and while individual newspapers are biased, much like the UK, the press overall seems to represent most mainstream voices. One obvious difference is the length of the political campaigns. In Britain the election is held 6 weeks after it’s called and the main political campaigning is limited to that. When I arrived in Ghana in September ’07 the NPP were noisily picking their candidate and the level of activity seems to have been fairly high since, with the main campaigning and rallies for the election starting what felt like months before December. And the rallies themselves are huge, open air affairs with supporters bussed in from far and wide noisily showing their support. Rather too noisily for my taste and worrying suggestions of payment (and alcohol) used as inducements for attendance. The mad motorcyclists that surround the buildup to a rally are the only factor that really worried me. Not that they showed any aggression, but worse they showed a complete lack of care or awareness of risk either to themselves or anyone else in their vicinity. That at least two have died in accidents doesn’t surprise me.

And tomorrow Ghana returns to the polls to make a final decision on the presidency. I wish them well, am proud to have been able to see such a strong and positive example of African democracy and look forward to serving the remainder of my time in Ghana under a new president.

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3 responses

27 12 2008
Andi

Hello Tim,

I’m from Globalpost.com and I’m looking to get in touch with you about your blog. We are launching in Janurary 2009 and we think you have one of the best blogs in Ghana. Please get in touch with me as soon as possible, if you can, at Andi.rothwell@gmail.com. I hope to hear from you soon!

Andi Rothwell

28 12 2008
Tim Little

That’s very kind but sadly not true, there are many good Ghana blogs, many written by Ghanaians or people who’ve been here much longer than me (and will be here after I’ve left)

29 12 2008
Tim

Dont hide your light under a bushel and take the mans word for it.

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