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Opinions of Sunday, 23 October 2016

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Presidential Debate: Who is running away (Mahama or Nana Addo)?

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) has organised debates between presidential candidates of political parties with representation in parliament since 2008. This year, the IEA introduced what it called “Evening Encounter with Presidential Candidates”, which was meant to precede the main presidential debates (see, “IEA inaugurates Presidential Debate Committee”, Ghanaweb, June 16, 2016). However, there seems to be a tug of war between the two leading political parties (NDC and NPP) on the participation of their presidential candidates in the IEA debates. This is a brief discussion on the behaviour of the two parties regarding this year’s IEA presidential debates.

Soon as IEA made public their plans for the 2016 debates, NDC announced that both President Mahama and NDC were boycotting not only the IEA organised debates but all IEA activities because IEA was biased against NDC (see, “Official: Mahama, NDC snub IEA debates”, Ghanaweb, June 21, 2016). It was clear at that time that with dumsor as an albatross on them, President Mahama and NDC were uncomfortable to subject themselves to scrutiny, so a tactical decision not to participate in both the IEA announced Evening Encounter with Presidential Candidates and the presidential debates. NPP claimed that President Mahama had chicken out. Seasoned journalist, Kawku Baako described the NDC decision as “bad judgement” (see IEA Debate boycott: Mahama exercised bad judgement – Baako”, Ghanaweb June 25, 2016), while Dr Gyampo referred to it as “political suicide” (see, “NDC’s IEA boycott political suicide – Gyampo”, Ghanaweb, June 23, 2016).

I could not believe that NDC and President Mahama could take such a backward decision when it comes to deepening Ghana’s democracy. The decision to boycott the IEA debates portrayed the party and President Mahama as weak and scared of debating Nana Akufo-Addo on their eight-years stewardship. Some important personalities and institutions including the Chairman of the National Peace Council, Rev Prof Asante were also disappointed with NDC’s boycott (see, “NDC’s boycott of IEA Debate sad - Rev Asante”, Ghanaweb, September 29, 2016). Perhaps, the intervention of the respected Rev Prof Asante made NDC to change its mind on the boycott.

Strangely and without a formal announcement of rescinding on the IEA boycott, President Mahama challenged Nana Akufo-Addo to a one-to-one debate with him (see,”I am still waiting for Akufo-Addo for debate Challenge – Mahama” and “Akufo-Addo develops cold-feet to Mahama’s debate challenge”, Ghanaweb, October 20, 2016). For reasons best known to NPP and Nana Akufo-Addo, they are now reluctant or unwilling to take part in a presidential debate (see, “Mahama’s debate challenge hypocritical – Mustapha Hamid”, Ghanaweb, October 20, 2016). According to Mustapha Hamid, who is the Spokesperson for Nana Akufo-Addo, “if President Mahama was truly serious about debating Nana Akufo-Addo, he would have written an official letter to the NPP challenging the NPP presidential candidate to a debate”.

The next day, the same Mustapha was reported to have said that Nana Akufo-Addo was not qualified to debate President Mahama because “he has never been anywhere near the presidency before thus lacking the acumen to effectively face off with Mahama”, I suspect this was in response to an earlier comment by President Mahama that, Nana Akufo-Addo could not criticise him because he has never been president (see, Akufo-Addo not qualified to debate Mahama – NPP”, Ghanaweb, October 21, 2016). According to Prof Mike Oquaye, a leading member of NPP, the call by President Mahama for a one-to-one debate with Nana Akufo-Addo is too late, an attempt to score cheap political points and that the period for a debate passed when the NDC refused to participate in the IEA organised debates (see, “It’s too late for Nana Addo to debate Mahama – Prof Oquaye”, Citifmonline, October 21, 2016). Really?

I sometimes find it difficult to understand the two main parties in Ghana (NDC and NPP). President Mahama and NDC announced boycott of IEA debates and without admitting they made a mistake, he is challenging Nana-Akufo Addo to a one-to -one debate. Who will organise the debate (IEA or the presidency)? Then, NPP who mocked President Mahama and NDC for the boycott are now running away from the golden opportunity. Is it too late as Prof Oquaye wants Ghanaians to believe or there is more to it than meets the eye?

In 2008, the first IEA presidential debate was held on October 29 and the second was on November 12. The first round of the presidential elections was held on Sunday December 7, 2012 (thirty-eight and twenty-four days respectively before the election). In 2012, the first IEA presidential debate was on October 30 and the second on November 22 (thirty-seven and fourteen days respectively before the presidential election). This year’s presidential election is scheduled for December 7, 2016 and President Mahama’s challenge to Nana Akufo-Addo is forty-seven days from election day. So, why is Prof Oquaye saying it’s too late?

Let’s assumed that Prof Oquaye is right that it is too late for the presidential debate. If NPP and Nana Akufo-Addo are truely interested in participating in the IEA presidential debates, why has Nana Akufo-Addo not appeared at IEA’s Evening Encounter with Presidential Candidates? Are they also boycotting IEA? To the best of my knowledge, some presidential aspirants, including Nduom, Edward Mahama, Ivor Greenstreet and Konadu-Agyemeng Rawlings have all appeared, except Nana Akufo-Addo. He was scheduled to appear on July 5, 2016 but did not appear. At least, his appearance has been postponed twice without any good reason (see “IEA Debate: Nana Addo will attend when manifesto is ready - Mac Manu”, Ghanaweb, August 8, 2016). That also did not happen and NPP announced that it will be after the manifesto launch (see, “IEA Encounter – Nana-Addo will appear after manifesto launch – Aide”, Ghanaweb, September 28, 2016).

Nana Akufo-Addo is an orator and a confident public speaker, so what is the reason behind his reluctance or unwillingness to appear at the IEA’s Evening Encounter with the Presidential Candidates and NPP’s excuse to not to allow him to debate President Mahama on one-to-one? There are rumours circulating on social media that Nana Akufo-Addo has become a bit forgetful, which is common with ageing. Perhaps, NPP is worried that should Nana Akufo-Addo appear before the IEA Evening Encounter or debate President Mahama, he could be exposed as he may not remember some of his facts. If such rumours are true, then that could explain why he has not appeared at the Evening Encounter and now refusing to debate Mahama.

I believe that NDC/Mahama and NPP/Nana Akufo-Addo should not be allowed to take Ghanaians for a ride. At least, the two should take part in one debate before the December 7, 2016 presidential election. One-to-one debate will be better because there will no Ayariga to disrupt Nana Akufo-Addo as he did in 2012 (they are the only party presidential candidates with representation in parliament). The two political parties must stop the blame game and get serious with the IEA presidential debate.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK