The roots of Ghana’s democracy have deepened over the last two decades; so how is the state of politics in West Africa’s most stable country? Report by Baffour Ankomah.
Ghana’s political system is a mixture of the British and the American systems. A powerful Executive President sits side by side with a equally powerful legislature, and sometimes the tensions between the two wings of government can be epic.
After six peaceful and successful elections in the last 20 years, during which the government has changed hands three times between the two largest political parties in the country, the foundations of Ghana’s democracy have been firmly put in place.
Unlike the harrowing period between 1966 and 1992 when the country was rocked by military coup after military coup, with political instability and economic retardation as the inevitable corollary, the past two decades have seen the roots of democracy growing deeper. In fact, Ghana’s presidents no longer lose sleep at all these days over the possibility of military coups because while the people will not accept such military adventurers, it will be a very mad soldier who will think today of overthrowing a Ghanaian government through the barrel of the gun. It is a testimony to how far the country has come in a volatile West African region that has had its fair share of rebel wars and civil strife.
Rather, today Ghanaian governments have to grapple with whether they will make the two terms of four each years in office that the electorate appears to have instituted by default. The country’s 1992 constitution prescribes four-year terms for presidents, after which they are eligible to stand for another four-year term, and then retire. The headache for presidents therefore is how to make the second term, itself contingent on what they do in the first term to improve the lives of the people.
In the past 20 years, however, the electorate appears to have settled into a pattern where they allow a governing party two terms in office, and then vote it out and bring in a new party.
It happened under President Jerry Rawlings and his National Democratic Congress (NDC) party which ruled from 1992–2000, and President John Kufuor and his New Patriotic Party (NPP) who governed from 2000-2008.
In 2008, voters returned the NDC to power under President John Atta Mills, and though Mills died suddenly in July last year, five months to elections in December, his Vice-President and successor, John Mahama, and the ruling NDC went on to win a second term which will take them to 2016.
But there is a caveat here: the NPP Presidential candidate in the December elections, Nana Akufo-Addo, is yet to accept defeat, having accused the Electoral Commission (EC) of using underhand means to deprive him of votes which were then added to Mahama’s. The case is now before the Supreme Court of Ghana where Akufo-Addo is seeking to overturn Mahama’s victory.
Whichever side the Supreme Court rules for, it will reinforce the already known fact that Ghanaian politics has become a twohorse race between the NDC and NPP, and it will stay so for a long time to come. Though there are six other smaller parties in the country, they are too small in size and influence to win power in the foreseeable future.
This state of affairs has brought an element of predictability into the country’s politics and economy as businesses and businesspeople can have comfort in the knowledge that either an NDC or NPP win will not drastically change the status quo. The two parties are not too far away from one another in temperament
and policies. While the NDC says it is a social-democratic party, the NPP says it is a centre-right party that encourages propertyowning by individuals and companies – “the party of business” the NPP cares to add. In reality, however, there is not much difference between the two parties by way of policy. In fact, they are so much alike in terms of that, that voters do not have much to choose between the two.
As a result, there is not much variation in how the country is run, whether under an NPP or NDC government. This brings stability to the economy and business planning as, give or take, the swing of government policy on either side of the party pendulum is slight. This has made Ghana an attractive place to invest and do business.