Democracy in Ghana: The Rawlings Mystique Endures

By Onadipe, Abiodun | Contemporary Review, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Democracy in Ghana: The Rawlings Mystique Endures


Onadipe, Abiodun, Contemporary Review


Last December marked a major milestone for the fledgling democracy in Ghana. For the first time in its political history, a civilian administration was able to complete its term in office and also secure a renewed mandate democratically. The Rawlings mystique that has enraptured Ghana for the past 15 years was still potent enough to make this happen. Ghana has returned from the precipice, Ghanaian pride has been restored through hard work; it is now a respected member of the international community - the appointment of Kofi Annan as the first black African to head the United Nations, speaks volumes.

It can be said that Ghana has left the ranks of African countries wracked by military coups and repressive dictatorships and has joined the field of countries with civilised, responsible and representative government - in effect, a democracy that actually works in Africa. The fact that the Rawlings administration took on the opposition in a free contest is heartening because democratic role was not tampered with during its first term in which Jerry Rawlings's National Democratic Party (NDC) had an overwhelming parliamentary majority. In other words, Ghana is miles ahead of Nigeria when talk turns to democracy in Africa. Rawlings who will lead Ghana into the next millennium has been given a chance to consolidate his accomplishments which he began 15 years ago as a fire-brand air-force officer. This article will review the twists and turns of the historic election, while contemplating the future of the Rawlings rule based on its tempestuous past.

Ghana's election proved, among other things, that there are still some sporting losers around in Africa's burgeoning democratic milieu, as the defeated candidates - both in the presidential and parliamentary races, which were held simultaneously - congratulated the victors without rancour and accepted the election results. Also surprising were the accolades heaped on the chairman of the Electoral Commission, Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, from all quarters for carrying out his tasks dutifully. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) election monitoring delegation noted in its report the 'remarkable preparation made by the Electoral Commission to improve on its performance of 1992.' In the presidential race, Rawlings, aged 49, leading the Progressive Alliance comprising his own NDC, the Eagle Party and the Democratic Peoples' Party (DPP), won 57.2 per cent of the votes; his main rival John Agyekum Kufuor, aged 56, of the National Peoples' Party (NPP) - the senior partner in the Great Alliance - won 39 per cent while the third candidate, Edward Nazigrie Mahama, aged 51, of the Peoples' Convention Party (PCP, the other opposition alliance party) won three per cent. (Mahama was a compromise candidate chosen 10 weeks before the elections due to the divisive activities of its leader, ex-president Hilla Liman.) And in the contest for the 200 parliamentary seats, NDC won 132, NPP 62, PCP five and a single seat was won by the Peoples' National Congress.

The elections were reported to have been free, fair, peaceful and keenly contested - there were no boycotts that had marred the 1992 edition - with the use of transparent ballot boxes being used for the first time in Ghana. The Commonwealth Observer Group reported that: 'These elections mark an important advance in the democratic process in Ghana. Overall, they have been well planned, organised and conducted. It is significant that all parties were determined to contest the election and they did so vigorously. The people of Ghana have demonstrated their commitment to the democratic future of their country.' The voter turn-out was impressively high: 7.03 million voted out of the eligible 9.3 million electorate.

That Rawlings won was not a forgone conclusion, despite the incumbency factor and the limitless resources at his disposal even though early indications were that Rawlings would win because the opposition had no 'Rawlings-beater'. …

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