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Opinions of Monday, 22 September 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The NDC’s existential crisis

The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) has always been a one trick horse. In its first eight years after emerging from its military roots, the NDC run on befuddled socialism under its founder Jerry Rawlings who ruled Ghana for almost 20 years. Out of power for almost eight years in a new democratic dispensation, it transformed itself and ran on social democracy.

In the upcoming 2008 December general elections, the NDC appears running without the benefit of either. Marxist-Leninist ideology via socialism is on the shelf; even its die-hard apparatchiks say so. And social democracy is in the rear-view mirror, the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) and minority Convention Peoples Party (CPP) having virtually encroached into the NDC ideological terrain and appropriated its social democracy ethos.

This has come about because the NDC appears unclear in its campaign issues, with its flagbearer, John Atta-Mills and his vice John Mahama, conflicting with the bossy Rawlings, on policy issues. Rawlings campaigns attracts more people but more mired in insults, threats, incitements, doom and incoherence than expected of one who has ruled Ghana for almost 20 years both as military and civilian leader. Ghanaians have been expecting insightful messages from Rawlings on the campaign trails but to no avail.

Despite being in power for almost 20 years the NDC’s raison d’etre is much more telling than any lack of detailed and coherent policy platform. Founded as a harbinger of Ft. Lt. Jerry Rawlings’ military junta, the Provincial National Defence Council (PNDC), the NDC evolved into a political party after immense pressure from both Ghanaians of the political right and the international community, especially donor countries.

But since it left power in 2000, after being defeated by the conservative liberal democrats, the NPP, the NDC policy platform has been noting but meaningless, with Rawlings ruffling the party’s platform, shockingly against his almost 20 years rule that should have seen him draw from his vast years in office as leaders like South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Tanzania’s Benjamin Mkapa have done.

The NDC’s presidential candidate, John Evans Atta-Mills, a former law teacher at the University of Ghana, a political novice who was plugged from obscurity by Rawlings to be his be vice president after a mess at Rawlings’ State House (the Osu Castle), more as an easily manipulable figure, is now in his third and almost certainly his last campaign.

Atta-Mills has body language of someone who does not want to be President of Ghana in the face of the authoritarian Rawlings who surprisingly is said to be the sole founder of the NDC (expected to be a democratic outfit and therefore an outcome of coalition of like-minded folks). Rawlings is said to have signed the NDC constitution with his “blood,” and virtually dictates the direction of the party from his home with his wife, Nana Konadu Agyemang. Atta-Mills can still do indignation but not with much confidence. And few weeks into the December 2008 general elections, Atta-Mills doesn’t have a message that resonates with the Ghanaian electorate.

In search of the new reason for being in the December 2008, the NDC, more the Fante faction and those tired of Rawlings’ dictatorial shenanigans, out-smarted Rawlings and his temperamental wife, and picked John Mahama against Rawlings favourite Betty Mould. That kind of bruised the over-inflated ego of the dictatorial Rawlings but Atta-Mills moved on all the same, quietly damming the consequences. It was the sort of desperate message the NDC has to put out when trying to save itself in the last leg of the 2008 campaign.

Such bravado made some political Ghana think there is a “new NDC” devoid of the Rawlings internal dictatorship and injudicious talks – his “boom” speaks that have been embarrassing the Atta-Mills faction and other more balanced members who would have preferred Rawlings staying behind-the-scene and let Atta-Mills and Mahama take on the increasingly popular Nana Akufo-Addo and his ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) on policy issues and the inadequacies of the eight-year-rule of the NPP.

The polls haven’t helped the NDC’s morale, either. They indicate what everyone has been feeling on the ground, the NDC is slipping badly. A nationwide survey carried out by the independent pollsters Research International last week saw NPP flagbearer Nana Akufo-Addo more than a ten-point ahead of the NDC's Atta-Mills. According to the Accra-based The Statesman the NPP is “equally strongly in levels of support for its parliamentary candidates, with 46% saying they would be voting for the NPP compared to 35% for the NDC and 14% for other parties. This lead was even greater amongst the youth (the largest demographic group) and women voters, suggesting that the NPP can expect to retain their Parliamentary majority in the next term.”

While the NPP is shrinking the NDC from the right and taking them on in their secured grounds such as the northern regions, the CPP are squeezing them from the left. This is rather troubling for the NDC, who had never been challenged on the left until the CPP was revived with the election of the methodological Paa Kwesi Nduom. This may be a parked vote, but for the NDC the predicament is that it is parked somewhere else, more its safe haven of Volta Region.

To add insult to this injury, the Atta-Mills and Mahama ticket has had to deal with a Rawlings’ un-social democratic campaign statements that portray the NDC as “tribalistic,” “violent,” “threatening,” “harassing,” “insulting,” and wishing that in the case the NDC loose the December general elections Ghana should go either the Zimbabwean and the Kenyan ways. Such image, more emanating from the unpredictable Rawlings and few NDC apparatchiks, depicts the NDC as archaic Ghanaian social democratic party.

This is wounding for an NDC that pride itself on being the defender of ordinary, grassroots’ interests, and the NPP as an elitist party. The rough image projected by Rawlings and the few NDC apparatchiks, against their new social democracy ideology, has opened wounds and illustrates the NDC as still mired in its same old, same old violent military mentality. This puts the NDC in huge identity crisis. In this case, given the choice between the NPP and the NDC, voters might choose the NPP.

Email: kakos064@uottawa.ca