Lessons in Democracy

Article excerpt

As we went to press, result from Ghana indicated that the country would vote again on 28 December to elect a new president to take over from the outgoing John Agyekum Kufuor. Elections held on 7 December had produced no winner as the leading candidates could not garner the madatory "50%+1" to win on the first ballot. But a Stephan Gyasi Jnr reports from Accra, the conduct of the polls and the general peaceful atmosphere in which they were held, will provide vital lessons in democracy for other countries in Africa.

Many elections in Africa in recent years have been harrowing affairs, marred by malpractice, violence and death. Not so in Ghana, whose independence in 1957 opened the floodgates to African liberation form colonial rule. That, enough, is not to say that reckless statements about "going the Kenyan way" had not been made in Ghana by some party supporters in the months and weeks leading to the elections.

Kenya exploded after its elections in December 2007, in which the opposition accused the government of fiddling with the figures and eventually rigging the elections.

The violence, which went on for two months, claimed over 1,000 lives. But no so in Ghana, giving the many international election observers who flocked to the country cause to salute Ghanaians and describe the electoral process as "generally peaceful, orderly, free and fair."

The African Union observer mission, headed by the former OAU secretary general, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, praised Ghana's election as a "consolidation of democracy" and "a good example" to West Africa and Africa as a whole.

After several military coups since 1966, Ghana went the democratic way in 1992 and have since held four peaceful elections in 1996, 2000, 2004 and now 2008. During the same period, two democratically-elected presidents finishing their constritutionally-mandated two terms (of 8 years each)-Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor-have peacefully stepped aside to be replaced by their elected successors.

If all goes well during the run-off on 28 December, the democratic lessons from Ghana will resonate throughout Africa, a continent that has seen some ugly elections in the recent past.

A draw in the first round

The elections, especially the presidential, were expected to be a breakthtaking encounter between the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) and it did not disappoint!

It ended up throwing the poll into a second round scheduled for 28 December after neither the NPP's Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo nor the NDC's Professor John Evans Atta Mills garnered the constitutionally required "50%+1" of the valid votes cast to win on the first ballot.

Akufo-Addo polled 4,159,439 valid votes or 49.13%, while Atta Mills, running for president for the third time, got 4,056,634 votes or 47.92%. It was that close. Their nearest rival, the CPP candidate Paa Kwesi Nduom, who came third, was left far behind with a miserly 113,494 votes or 1.34%.

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The results, from a national voter turnout of 70%, show that claims by both parties ahead of elections that they were heading for a "one-touch" victory did not resonate with the electorate. The pattern of the election clearly shows that Ghanaian democracy is maturing, and voters have started looking beyond the bread and butter issues normally used by politicians in their campaigns, to critically analyse the politicians' planned policy directions and how practical their plans are for improving the lives of the people.

Following this logic, it is no surprise that the ruling NPP appears to have been stung by "the sin of incumbency", leading to its relatively poor showing at the polls. In the parliamentary election, for example, the NPP lost its majority in parliament where it had 128 of the 230 seats. It won only 112 seats in this election to the NDC's 113, a remarkable performance by the opposition party that had suffered a crippling defeat in 2004 when it won only 92 seats. …