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Ghana’s 2016 elections explained

Ghana’s 2016 elections explained

Ghanaians go to polls on Wednesday with the state of the country’s economy weighing heavily on voters’ minds.

The choice for voters will likely be between the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) – led by 58-year old President John Mahama – which is standing for an unprecedented third term, and the veteran Nana Akufo-Addo’s New Patriotic Party (NPP), which has been out of power for eight years.

The opposition party is confident that voters are eager for a change because of the economic challenges facing the country; while the ruling party is relying on recent infrastructure spending and an improved outlook for the economy to see it across the line.

Background

Since the end of military rule in 1992, Ghana has experienced peaceful elections and the elections on Wednesday are expected to follow suit. The West African nation has held six peaceful presidential elections since the end of military rule, and the nation has been hailed as Africa’s beacon of democracy. This year’s election, however, has seen tensions increasing as the few credible public opinion polls in the country show the incumbent Mahama leading by a small margin. 

What is at stake?

Most Ghanaians view the state of the economy as the central issue of the election. Ghana’s economic growth has declined sharply, from a record high of 14% in 2011 to 3.9% in 2015, according to World Bank data. The slump was caused by the global decline in key export commodity prices such as oil, gold and cocoa, and a three-year-long electricity crisis, which has crippled industry and forced some factories to shut down.

The economic challenges facing Ghana forced the government to seek a $1bn bailout from international lenders earlier this year. Ghanaians have also seen the cost of living increase due to unstable inflation figures, which peaked at 19.2% in March 2016, before falling to 16.7% in July, then climbing up again to 17.2% in September, according to the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS). In October the country saw inflation dip back somewhat to 15.8%.

The economic outlook for the West African country, however, is looking brighter, with growth expected to increase slightly year-on-year by 0.4% to 4.3% in 2016, according to the GSS. But the average Ghanaian is yet to feel the benefit of this moderate bump, and this could lead to voters rejecting President Mahama.

On the campaign trail

The stakes are high for both the ruling NDC and the main opposition NPP in this year’s elections. For the NDC, a renewal of its mandate by the Ghanaian people would grant it a new lease of life and afford it another opportunity to continue its ‘massive’ infrastructure development programme. President Mahama has implemented an agenda of improving the country’s infrastructure, with around 450m cedis ($103m) spent on building roads, hospitals and schools in 2015 alone.

Meanwhile, the NPP views the 2016 elections as the final opportunity for its 72-year old leader Akufo-Addo to ascend to the presidency, and the political party has continuously touted its past economic record, where growth increased from 3.7% in 2000 to 9.5% in 2008. The NDC’s chances of winning the election, however, were boosted by the resolution of the debilitating energy crisis – also known as the “dumsor” – earlier this year, and the slight improvement in the economic climate in the country.

President Mahama has also commissioned a spree of massive infrastructure projects, including $38m fibre optic project linking Ghana’s northern and southern regions with network connectivity. But if previous elections are anything to go by, then this election is likely to be a tight contest, which could negatively affect the stability of the cedi, further raise import costs, and cause inflation to increase through to the end 2016.

Eric Kwame Amesimeku & Taku Dzimwasha

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Written by Eric Kwame Amesimeku

Eric Kwame Amesimeku is a Ghanaian journalist with over nine years journalism experience. Eric was the Editor of Ghana Business and Finance magazine, as well as the Business Editor of Business World magazine.

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