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Opinions of Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Columnist: Sidibe, Abdul

The Chances Of An Npp Presidential Candidate In 2012

Last week Nana Akufo Addo launched his campaign to lead his party in the 2012 elections with a skidding attack on the government. We don’t fault him though. Anyone with knowledge of PR would recognize that Nana is trying to position himself as the front runner in a congress that, like the previous one, will be very bruising for both him and for Alan Kyerementeng his opponent. Those following Ghanaian politics have already started smelling the air from both camps.

It will be fair to say that this time there won’t be as many candidates as in the previous NPP congress. The party has learnt in a very hard way, the punishing implication of parading tens of people in front of Ghanaians in the name of running for the highest office. The party has also learnt, again in the hard way, that even though the constitution says that any Ghanaian in the age of majority with a sound mind can run for that office, not all have the temperament and humility that goes with it. Part of the reasons the NPP lost the last election was the perception of disrespect for the office of the President, and the open show of opulence and extravagance by government officials in the run up to the 2007 congress.

Nana and others want Ghanaians to put the NPP congress of 2007 behind them, but the NPP as a party has not settled some of the acrimonies that came out of that congress. These acrimonies will come back to haunt the party if care is not taken. The fight between the Nana and Alan campaigns has already started brewing on the internet, and some of the attacks coming from both sides online have taken a very personal shape.

But the question is? what are chances of both candidates against an incumbent president who defeated an NPP presidential candidate from opposition? In examining these chances, it is important to consider two broad factors.

1. The intensity of the opposition party and the resonance of it message.

2. Political strength and weakness of ruling party’s political coalition. In every election cycle, parties have their core message. The resonance of their message is a function of their performance in an election cycle. For instance in the 1992 and 1996 elections, the NDC sold itself on the success stories of the PNDC. That message resonated with Ghanaians, the party won both elections. In 2000 and 2004, NPP campaigned on the message of change, unity and freedom. Former President Kufour defined himself as a gentler, wiser and level headed leader. Again, that message resonated with Ghanaians, and the NPP was rewarded with victories in both elections. In 2008, the then candidate Mills campaign for change, and a better Ghana, and he identified himself with ordinary Ghanaians; he followed them to their respective homes and work places to ask for their votes. He won that election.

In all the change elections held in Ghana since the Fourth Republic started in 1992, the intensity of the winning opposition party can be dictated fairly easily and early. By 1998, many following politics recognized that Kufour was a force to be reckoned with. By the early 2000s, he was winning the moral argument against the incumbent government. The same happened in 2007 and early 2008 that led to the Mills victory in the last election.

2012 is not a change election year. The NPP could criticize the administration, but it lacks a coherent message that will entice the voting public in to giving it the mandate. Unlike the previous change election years, both Nana and Alan have not defined themselves enough to the Ghanaian voter.

Alan is an unknown entity in Ghanaian politics. Until the Kufour administration, Alan’s name is not a household name in Ghanaian political parlance. In government he did nothing to distinguish himself from the other government officials and party functionaries as to catch the eyes of the Ghanaian voter. If the NPP delegates elect Alan, their 2012 campaign will not resonate past their stronghold of Ashanti region. The result of the election will be devastating for the party. It will look pretty much like the result of the 1992 and 1996 elections, a sweep for the NDC in all regions except Ashanti region. In this field, Nana has an urge over Alan.

But Nana too has his own definition problems . He did not emerge from the last election as a gracious loser. It may be recalled that the Nana campaign nearly held the entire nation to ransom even though it was clear by the end of the second round of voting that he had lost the election. Suffice it to say that till date Nana did not concede defeat in the 2008 election. He did come out to say that he had recognized that EC had declared a winner, and a process is in place to challenge the results of the elections in court. Ghanaian voters generally viewed him as arrogant. He did not take the time to defuse that perception, and in politics perception matter a lot. People like to vote for officials they can have “pito” with, and Nana, despite his political accomplishments, just does not come across as such a person.

To defeat an incumbent president, the opposition party should be able keep its support base and build a winning coalition. The broader the coalition, the brighter it chances of unseating the government. In the 1992 and 1996 elections, the coalition that resulted in the NDC victories of those elections included mainly of urban poor and rural dwellers. That was why the NDC was able to sweep all the regions except Ashanti. By 1998, some of the NDC coalition, particularly in the urban areas, has started shading. By the 2000 election, the lost had intensified and the NDC lost in most of the major urban cities and lost the elections. A new coalition was formed, a coalition that included mainly of the urban middle class, some urban poor, and some rural dwellers mainly in the Akan regions. This coalition gave Kufour his reelection in 2004. But even in 2004, the Kufour coalition has begun showing signs of weakness. This explains why in the 2004 elections, even though Mills lost his percentage of votes went up by a significant margin. The reason for the weakness was that part of the Kufour coalition (urban poor) drifted from the NPP to the NDC. By the 2008 election, the drift was more severe and the NPP lost the elections (please check the results of the 2000, 2004 and 2008 elections and see constituency where Mills made significant gains).

To analyze the chances of the NPP in 2012, it is important to observe if there are any changes to the dynamics of 2008 that resulted in the Mills victory. So far there are no big changes in the dynamics. Rather, the NDC is likely to gain support in the rural areas in 2012. The history of rural voting in Ghana since 1992 is showing a very interesting pattern. A sizeable majority of rural dwellers in Ghana vote the NDC. The NDC always wins in rural Greater Accra, Volta, Northern, Upper East, and Upper West regions. The only region whose rural dwellers have voted NPP since 1992 is Ashanti. The rest of the rural voting bloc is a swing vote and they usually vote for the ruling government (see election results of 1996 and 2004 for Eastern, Western and Central Regions of Ghana). For reasons of incumbency, the NDC is more likely to add more rural votes in 2012 than the NPP.

Given that the urban voting dynamics have not significantly change, and the historical voting pattern of the rural bloc, it is very unlikely for the NPP to unseat the current administration. The NDC will not just win the presidency; it will increase its majority in parliament. The reason is rural voting dynamics. The only scenario that could cause an NPP victory will be something bad happening in government that will cause voters in the urban areas, particularly along the coast, to change their minds and vote NPP.

Finally, the internal politics of the NPP makes it even harder for the party. The NPP has two individuals who think they are both born to be Presidents. As a result of this, they have succeeded in pining the party against own itself. It will be very difficult for the party to quiet the noise that will ensue from their congress. A victory for Nana will be perceived by the Alan campaign as resulting from Nana’s capture of the party machinery. In their last congress people perceived to be supporters of Nana Akufo Addo won most of the party positions. A victory for Alan on the other hand, would be seen by the Nana people as denying him his turn in the line of party succession and they will be very bitter about it. May be an early congress would help calm things down before the 2012 elections. But the daunting task of defending certain bad decision of the Kufour administration and the hash political dynamics waits whoever emerges the presidential candidate of the NPP. It is too early though, we have two more years to go, and so much can change in those two years. But I won’t bet my last pesewa on the NPP.

Abdul Sidibe

Abdul Musah Sidibe is a student journalist based in Calgary, Alberta.