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Feature Article of Monday, 27 August 2012

Columnist: Taden, John

Nana Vs Mahama – it’s Game On! (Part 1)

First of all, the race to the Castle is not solely between Nana Akuffo Addo of the NPP and John Mahama of the NDC. However, they represent the two largest political parties that have always been the most likely to win elections in Ghana.
Whether the race has just gotten more or less interesting, depends on who you talk to, but things are no longer the same. President Mills is gone and Nana has a new but not-all-too-different opponent. John Mahama, though is yet to be endorsed by delegates as NDC flag bearer, would lead their national campaign now until then. What would Ghanaians be looking out for in these two great politicians?
Some say it is too late for the NDC to save itself with a new candidate, but for somebody who woke up in the morning as Vice President, only to go back to bed capably later that night as President, it’s hard to tell if anything is actually too late. There are others who believe things have just gotten tougher for Nana Addo. As somebody remarked; “the referee caught a penalty kick for Nana and God changed the goal keeper”. But whether the goal keeper is supposed to be the better one or not, is also hard to tell.
Recent opinion survey by research outfit Synovate, published in July this year, indicates that Health, Employment, Education and Economy in that order are the top issues that are going to determine the Ghanaian voter’s choice, come December 2012. Things indeed have changed. When issues such as the economy are ranked fourth on the priority radar of the voter, it reveals two important issues; that it is no longer about where the next meal is coming from and that the Ghanaian voter is getting more and more sophisticated and discernible. It may also be an indication that people’s confidence in the economy and how it is being managed is growing, thereby making it a “secondary” issue to worry about.
Undoubtedly, what this also means is that the winner of the upcoming elections would be the one who does his “homework” well and better.
In the year 2008, similar voter priorities were capitalized upon by the NDC campaign strategists by making the promise of a one-time premium on the National Health Insurance Scheme one of their main messages. No wonder the free Senior High School promise by the NPP rang little bells in people’s ears. Even after the first round of elections in 2008, while the NPP government rushed to reduce fuel prices to make the economy look good in people’s eyes, the NDC strategically reminded the majority of voters that they voted for change in the first round and needed to stick to that in the second round.
When voters’ priorities are not as keen and critical as they usually are in bad economic times, presidential candidates have the opportunity to turn people’s minds onto things they can best represent. The party that can do this best is usually the one on the driving seat of campaigns and conditions.
So far the head of the NPP’S communication team, Nana Akomea has indicated that their message is not going to change simply because of the change of opponent. Such a strategy could either be suicidal or beneficial, depending upon how well they execute it. For them, it would be how well they “tie” John Mahama against some of the failures of the NDC government, since he was Vice president to the late Atta Mills. For the NDC, it would be how well they credit him with Professor Mills’ legacies.
In the year 2008, with flashy motorcades, large grandeur rallies and big speeches, Nana “erroneously” got most people thinking he was on the driving seat of the race to the presidency. As it turned out, he and the NPP were on the bashing side of voter intentions, because they got their priorities wrong. This time again, opinion polls have generally put Nana on the driving seat of the campaign; and it appears genuine. With a scathing propaganda that made president Mills look weak and failing in the eyes of many Ghanaians, they comfortably got on the offensive. Until now, they had a very potent message. Their ability to stay on the offensive in this regard is subject to two things: what they make Ghanaians see as the important differences between Nana and Mahama and how that difference fairs into the current voter priorities.
Listening to little pieces of messages on the media waves, it is clear that the NDC is already attempting to take control of the game. They have already hinted on the propaganda they will use in this regard; one which is equally potent and capable of eroding all the work Nana has done in the past three years in the towns and villages of Ghana. They have already said things like “Mahama is young with youthful exuberance, Nana is old and aging”, “Mahama is humble and peace loving, Nana is arrogant and war mongering”, Mahama represents the modern youth and underprivileged, Nana represents the old and archaic era of Ghanaian politicians”. By all indication, these are important matters the Ghanaian voter could give ear to, things that could change a lot of minds. That leaves us wondering, whether the NPP, supposedly on the driving seat, would look back.
The NDC’s propaganda machinery is arguably the most effective of all political parties in Ghana. They have been able to establish, even before the 2008 elections, a very damaging narrative about Nana Addo’s personality, one that has kept the NPP on the defensive side of the propaganda game, ever since. The notion that he was a drug user and out of touch with the ordinary Ghanaian reached even the remotest parts of the country before Nana himself. By this strategy, the NDC conveniently got on the offensive and properly marketed Prof Mills with productive door to door campaigns as the exact opposite. They made the election a choice between two people with very different personalities.
Nana, in the past three years, found the best counteracting strategy and has spent more time travelling and talking to electorates, reintroducing himself to the hospitable people of Ghana. That notion of an out-of-touch personality about him may no longer sound true in the ears of many Ghanaians; and that leaves us wondering if the most effective propaganda machinery in the country has anything new, apart from a new candidate.
Nonetheless, the personal character of presidential candidates is a huge deal breaker to Ghanaians in elections. The death of president Mills unified Ghanaians more than anything else, not because he was the greatest president ever, but unquestionably because he was a great person: humble, kind, sacrificial, soft spoken, peace loving and religious. These qualities earned him the “great personality” tag. John Mahama has been described as gentle, soft spoken, peace loving and calm. These qualities coupled with his low background and consistent passionate call for politics of decency, peace and unity have put him in the spotlight as somebody with a great personality. Nana Akuffo Addo on the other hand has been described as charismatic, firm, but aggressive and arrogant. His unrelenting defense of his famous or infamous “all die be die” statement brands him as defiant in the eyes of independent observers both locally and internationally. The likability of presidential candidates matters, especially in winning floating voters. In 2008, there were a lot of people who insinuated that they would vote for the NDC if John Mahama was the presidential candidate with Professor Mills as running mate. That leaves us asking if things just got easier for the NDC, especially in winning over floating voters. The NPP in 2008 argued that Nana Addo was more politically experienced and competent to lead Ghana than Professor Mills. Their ability to advance and support that argument with convincing facts this year as against John Mahama could prove persuasive in the competition for undecided voters.
If any vice presidential candidate ever brought more votes to ensure victory for his party than others in the history of Ghana’s politics, then it was the John Mahama of 2008. He did not only make more official campaign appearances than Professor Mills, he also became the most inspiring gentleman on the campaign trail many people wanted to see and hear, because of his consistent call for politics of decency. His nomination, more than anything else, energized the youthful base of the population. It was not surprising that he was christened the “Obama of Ghana”, even though he was just a running mate. That is neither likely of Mr. Arthur Amissah (John Mahama’s running mate) nor Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia (Nana Akuffo Addo’s running mate), but the debate on who has a better running mate this year has just been re-themed. The NPP, prior to the recent sad turn of events that eventually got Mr Amissah Arthur appointed as the Vice president of Ghana, argued that Dr Bawumia had the better economic management skills than Vice President John Mahama, to preside over the economic management team. If they have not already dumped that message, it appears they are about to. Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, the NPP National Chairman has already attempted to change the message by saying that, “the Mahama-Amissah government would be an uninspiring one”, the same message the NDC used when they could not prove to Ghanaians that John Mahama could preside over the economic management team better than Dr. Bawumia. However, Mr. Amissah is said to have more experience both economically and politically than Dr.Bawumia; a fact that is already compelling the NPP to dump and change messages. This alone is ample evidence of the NDC’s ability to alter and dictate the rhetoric of this year’s campaign even though the NPP appears to be in the driving seat.
If neither of these two political parties is able to change and dictate the rhetoric in this election, it is certain that voters will discernibly make their choices based on the issues they have ranked as top priorities. First on the board is health. President Mills’ main promise in this regard was a one-time premium for the National Health Insurance Scheme membership. Even though the government has made a lot of improvement and expansion in the scheme, that particular promise is yet to be implemented. Sadly, it is still being debated whether it is even possible to implement such a policy. Will the NDC generate a new promise or will they present evidence of its feasibility to the Ghanaian voter? If nothing changes at all, it looks like the NPP currently looks set to win the debate on health, if they are able to cite their record as the implementers of one of the best health insurance schemes in the continent.
Employment, as the next most important issue is up for grabs on the message board. The youth who happen to be the most affected of the current unemployment rate, also happen to be the group of voters John Mahama says he is representing. This persuasive move makes them think or know that even though things are not as best for them, he is on their side. Nana on the other hand since 2008 had many of the youth believing in him as the real technocrat or intellectual who was capable of industrializing the Ghanaian economy to change the unemployment situation. He is still holding on to that message and it’s hard to tell if the youth will choose an “old” man who happens to be the technocrat they all want to be or the young man who happens to represent everything they currently are.
With the initiation of work on three public universities in three years as against the debated promise of free senior high school education for everybody, it looks like the NDC is currently winning the debate on education. Everybody would like an education but the thousands of students who, year after year, have been denied admission into the universities and colleges because of limited annual enrollments certainly have a choice in this election. The NPP propaganda machinery has so far done a very effective job of making many Ghanaians believe that the higher economic growth rate is mainly due to the oil exploration and any government could have been this lucky. The NDC on the other hand is still fighting to be given the credit they deserve for managing the fastest growing economy in the world in 2011 according to The Economy Watch and the World Bank’s second fastest growing economy. It appears the NDC’s major economic weakness at this point in time is the depreciating value of the Ghana Cedi against the Dollar, one that does not look surmountable before the elections; and the NPP, through Dr. Bawumia seems to have discovered the right political tone to “hammer” the NDC on it. Due to the kind of promises politicians usually make to win power, people usually go into elections with big expectations for the future; expectations that are sometimes impossible to meet within four years. This condition usually gets people disgruntled with governments in short periods of time when they do not see fast changes in their lifestyles as they expected. The NDC is currently a victim of its own unmet grandiose promises and people’s wild expectations; and the NPP can only smile at that. However, winning the economic debate this year, just like in 2008, would border more on hope and promise than on facts and records. Ghanaians, since the discovery of oil have been more interested in how the oil revenue would be used to develop the country and the party that promises and inspires more is more likely to win. Nana Akuffo Addo’s enviable promise of industrializing the Ghanaian economy and ensuring more manufacturing and increasing national exports and solving the unemployment problem in a matter of ten years is juicy and tempting. It is only fair to say the NPP currently looks more set to win the upcoming debate on the economy (one hinged on hope and promise), all things being equal. But with Mr. Amissah joining the campaign trail to add an experienced economic voice to arguably, the most dynamic political game changers in recent times such as John Mahama and a possible John Rawlings, the debate on the economy is truly not concluded yet. Not yet. A re-energized statesman like Former President Kuffour on the other hand teaming up with a charismatic speaker like Nana Akuffo Addo and a respected economist like Dr. Bawumia could be all the NPP needs to hold their ground.
It is game on indeed! God bless Ghana!

John Taden (Saboba, N/R)

johntaden@yahoo.com

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