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Opinions of Thursday, 9 April 2009

Columnist: Mensah, Kobby

Ghana's Election 2012: A Strategic Wayforward for NPP and NDC

In recent months there have been talks in the public sphere about the possible candidacy of Akufo Addo and the NPP party's fortunes come election 2012. These talks, in large part, have been initiated from top NPP circles as ordinary sympathisers of the party also ponder over the chances of their beloved party should Akufo Addo be coronated. Sympathisers of Akufo Addo draw parallel with the current president's opposition days, arguing that he remains the most marketed individual amongst the possible candidates that may emerge for 2012. The assumption, thus, is that a party's fortune is tied into a candidate's popularity. Many are those who also argue that such a move by the party, coronating Akufo Addo as the head of the party's presidential ticket come 2012 will not only be a grave mistake but could make deep its political wilderness for years. Although each side may have a point, I will also like to offer my humble opinion in an attempt to provide another dimension to the discourse already in the public domain. I must emphasise though that my opinion is not ground breaking as is based on existing knowledge on Ghanaian politics and many are those who may also hold similar views.

To begin with, extant literature on Ghanaian politics suggest that Ghanaian electorates, since 1992, have voted largely on party lines and the reasons are varied. Some vote based on the ideological inclinations of the parties they support whereas a large number afford those parties legitimacy based on ethnocentric nuances associated with the party; tribal identification either with the leader, some top leaders around the centre of power, or the party's origin. Few, according to most of these credible literature, vote based on the policies and programmes put forward by the parties. Some on economic reasons and a significant number succumb to the electoral hype – jumping onto the perceived winning band wagon and the 'star power' of the candidate. The latter depends mostly on a number of events, amongst them: how strategic last minute campaign tactics are managed, including the manipulation of the candidate's 'star power.' a typical example in recent times is the use of former president Kufour's personality, the gentle giant to contrast NDCs alleged and perceived arrogance and violence going into election 2000. Kufour's star power was also used to shield the NPPs image problems of being elitist and tribal. And perhaps, it is this same star power the followers of Akufo Addo hopes to tap into, which in my opinion is no match to other contenders' in our political market – NDCs John, the vice president for example.

Based on the above highlighted reasons behind electorates' voting decisions amongst others, I am tempted to humbly disagree with either side on the Akufo Addo's candidacy debate. That is to say that NPPs electoral fortunes or demise in election 2012 does not necessarily seem to be tied into Akufo Addo or any other personality's candidacy come 2012, at least at this point, as four years in politics is a long long time ahead although a candidate's personality is found crucial as explained in former president Kufour's example above (also, Nkrumah and Rawlings' factor in priori elections). I see election 2012 to be different. I rather will argue, at this point, that NPPs election 2012 fortunes could be in the hands of the current administration. The performance of the current NDC government in many fronts – corruption, job creation, provision of affordable health care and education etc. as enshrined in their 'I care for you campaign' manifesto and how they compare to Kufour administration's performance in these areas – will determine NPPs electoral fortunes in election 2012 to a large extent. Again and although provocative, I am tempted to say that it could also depend, to some extent, on who the NDC put forward as candidate in election 2012 amongst those highlighted above. Why? The following are my reasons.

I argue, and stand to be corrected as have no empirical proof, that prior to the recent election 2008, the 'critical mass of the Ghana voting public' – the entire population minus the elite few – have been least particular, if any, in measuring the KPIs (key performance indicators) of almost all the administrations since 1992. Hence our inability to assess whether they performed to a satisfactory level. Though such information are usually made available by some political observers and opinion leaders through the media and other channels, they are however crowded by partisan sentiments and are wrongly perceived as self vested critiques. In my opinion, the NPPs election 2008 campaign strategy of comparing records initiated a very important debate and perhaps, informed us that as people we ought to be more critical in observing how those who wield power go about their jobs so we can assess whether they deserve our 'thumb power' come the next electoral cycle. Arguably, I may even suggest that perhaps comparing records could better serve election 2012 than it did for 2008 as most Ghanaians would have had a better chance to assess whether the NPP or the the NDC have served the nation better or we need a third force, CPP, PNC or even RDP at the helm.

Having said that, I think the challenge will become even much tougher for NPP should John become the NDCs candidate in 2012. In my opinion, the 'star power' of John's personality could either augment or shield the NDC, reminiscing Kufour's star power on NPP in election 2000. But who knows, we can only wait and see as the years roll by as a day in politics is too many let alone three years from now.

So in conclusion, from political campaign strategy perspectives, my take is that the NPP party holds a lot more leverage above all else – the candidate and the message – going forward into election 2012. Hence the importance of looking united and emitting that sense of confidence and belief, as they did in 2000, that they can win back power. Their performance, both in parliament and on the fringes of making viable alternative policy statement and forging a practical campaign message going into that election, could also be crucial and further make their chances brighter and real especially for 'non – aligned' (non partisan voters) voters. On NDC side of things going into election 2012, I think the most essential of their political weaponry will be their performance in the present administration – both real and perceived. However, as indicated earlier on in this piece, who they put up as the candidate is crucial as the general consensus is that his excellency may not have the stamina for a second term. A hawkish candidate may not do but a moderate and consensus seeking one could pull through. For the NDC party itself as a political capital, I have my doubts whether the people have really bought into it. The majority of Ghanaians, it seems, are still unsure of the party's behaviour generally although from ideological stand point, their third way principle of government intervention where the market falters is much preferred to both the NPP and CPPs capitalist and socialist nuances respectively. The party for now, in my opinion, is being held very much by some key personalities notably, former president Rawlings, his excellency the current president especially in the 2008 elections, and perhaps his excellency the vice president going into election 2012.

And regarding opposition attack, in my opinion the Rawlings factor as a source of attack on NDC, as has been the NPPs strategy ever since, may weary and have no effect on the electorates' thinking. However, it also depend largely on how the current administration's relationship with his excellency, the former president Rawlings. In similar fashion, attack on NPP using his excellency former president Kufour, whether he was corrupt or not, may not work as he still enjoys some amount of goodwill amongst a large section of the electorates despite what has gone on since he left office. However attacking the general performances of their governments and functionaries, especially how the parties may have behaved or are behaving along the fringes may go a long way to dissuade 'non – aligned' voters. On that note I, like many Ghanaians, look forward to more healthy discourse on party political strategies come election 2012 as the clock tick by and I wish that that current administration succeeds so Ghanaians will enjoy our fair share of the hard work that we are all putting in to build this beautiful nation bequeathed to us by our forebearers.

By: Kobby Mensah*

* Kobby Mensah is a PhD Student in Political Marketing at the University of Sheffield, UK. His research interest is in Political brand forms and strategies in a 21st century democracy. He can be reached through the Department of Journalism Studies, University of Sheffield, Minalloy House, 18-22 Regent St. Sheffield S1 3NJ. United Kingdom.(Email: