Kufuor Wins 'Grown-Up' Elections: The Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Ghana Last Month Produced the Biggest Turnout of Voters Not Only in the Country's Own History but Also in That of the West African Region. Does This Indicate a Change in the Style of Politics in the Region, Asks Anver Versi?

Article excerpt

President John Kufuor, who was re-elected by the largest popular participation in Ghana's history, has pledged to combat poverty during his second four year term of office.

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The turnout, at 83.2% of the estimated 10m voters, i.e. more than eight out of every 10 registered voters, was the biggest this West African country has ever seen and is the largest ever in the sub-region.

Kufuor, standing at 1.82 metres (6'4") and built to match has been affectionately nicknamed the 'The Gentle Giant' because he complements his towering physical frame with a modulated, impeccably-reasoned speaking manner.

He has been criticised in some quarters of lacking charisma. When this was put to him by BBC's Africa correspondent Mark Doyle, he responded: "If boredom gives us peace and stability for people to go about their normal businesses, then I say let's have more boredom."

His predecessor, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, as Doyle concedes, was "interesting"--especially for journalists looking for sensational news stories and blistering quotes--but as leader of a country struggling to find its economic feet, he was a failure.

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However, the 65-year-old John Kufuor, who read politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University before becoming a lawyer, can hardly be said to lack charisma. True, he does not go for fiery, clenched-fist speeches that seem to characterise some of Africa's more 'charismatic' leaders, but he has unmistakable gravitas, a disarming sense of humour and most important, people listen when he speaks and then go home and think about what they have heard. He treats ordinary people as sane, reasonable human beings who will respond to sane, reasonable propositions rather than as a mass who can be manipulated through demagoguery.

There were some in Kufuor's camp who had suggested that during the election campaign, he should change his style at least sufficiently to negate his closest rival, John Atta Mills, leader of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC)--the party created by Jerry Rawlings.

Atta Mills conducted a vigorous campaign focussing on poverty. An estimated 40% of Ghana's population lives below the poverty line of $1 per day as defined by the UN. Atta Mills promised to reduce poverty through a series of fairly radical measures and asked why Ghana's relative prosperity was not finding its way into the pockets of the poor.

Kufuor refused to change his style or adopt a more rhetorical stance. His campaign slogan was "So far, so good," indicating that Ghana's climb out of poverty was going to be a slow but steady process rather than a quick fix. He refused to parade the usual politician's stock-in-trade: promising the moon and stars as a vote-catching gimmick. Instead, he laid out the situation as it was, warts and all. "We shall see who they trust," he said before the elections.

His confidence in the Ghanaian people's ability to see past the surface rhetoric was amply rewarded when he obtained 52.7% of the presidential vote. Atta Mills was not far behind with 44.3%, indicating that his appeal to the poor has considerable resonance.

Kufuor defeated Atta Mills in the 2000 elections but only after the presidential poll had gone to a second round. This time, having obtained more than 50% of the vote, there was no need for a second round.

He immediately stated that he valued the opposition and that he was willing to work with it within the boundaries of the constitution. "I lived in opposition for 30 years," he told the BBC, "so in a way I empathise with the opposition."

John Kufuor's party, the New Patriotic Party, has increased its majority in Parliament, having won 129 out of the 230 seats. (At the time of going to press, five seats were yet to be declared).

Although the defeated NDC claimed that there had been some irregularities, observers gave the elections a clean bill of health. …