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Opinions of Sunday, 27 November 2016

Columnist: Colin Essamuah

The politics of running mates since 1979

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I verily believe that, I may be wrong though, that it is the subject of the background of presidential candidates and their running-mates which has got all of us riled up in the last few days with calls by party leaders of the two major parties taking the flak for promoting ethnocentrism or tribalism in our politics.

I may be wrong, maybe in the long-term, but I cannot help noticing that the whole argument about the origins of our leaders is centred on the background and electability of the persons who emerge on the presidential tickets of both the ruling National Democratic Congress and the opposition New Patriotic Party.

The whole argument boils down to the question of strategy and the success that attends leadership choices when we vote in our respective parties for our leaders.

I choose 1979 as the starting point because it was from that time we started having presidential elections with the full ticket comprising the presidential candidate and the vice presidential candidate, that is, what our Third Republican Constitution mandated us to do.

We abandoned the First Republic system where there was no Vice-President and the Second Republic where we had a Prime Minister and a ceremonial President and Head of State. We adopted the American type of executive governance structure but without a second legislative chamber in 1979. This was repeated with a few, inconsequential modifications in 1992 and subsists to date.

Major parties

One must note that at all material times since 1979, we have had two major parties, one left-inclined and the other against. This is important because it directly reflects the tenor of the ethnocentric accusations and counter accusations going around. In 1979, they were the Peoples’ National Party led by Dr Hilla Limann who won the election held in June,1979 with Prof. JWS de Graft-Johnson as Vice-President.

The other major party was the Popular Front Party of Victor Owusu with the Tolon-Na, Alhaji Yakubu Tali, as his running mate.The earlier choices, from say 1947 to 1966 also reflect current trends but used different structures and may confuse unnecessarily.

According to Mr Akenten Appiah-Menka in his autobiography ‘’The River in the Sea’’, and I believe him because he was a vital spirit in the PFP of 1979 to 1981, the party leader had promised the running mate position to the Eastern Regional Chairman of the PFP, Mr E.R.T Madjitey, who was the first African head of the police in the First Republic.

In those days, whoever won the party leadership primary was required to announce who his running mate would be immediately afterwards. For the PFP, Mr Victor Owusu was prevailed upon to abandon his promise after Madjitey had done his part by getting the Eastern and Greater Accra votes for Victor and go rather for the person who came second after him.

That was the party chairman the Tolon-Na. Why? This was because the main party in opposition to the PFP, the PNP, had chosen a northerner in the person of Dr Limann to be their leader.

The idea then was to split the northern support for Dr Limann and not a north-south balanced ticket. In the words of Appiah-Menka, ‘’Tolon-Naa can give us our needed block votes from the north.’’ It is patently ridiculous to appeal to people to vote one of their own to be Vice-President when your opponent is fielding a person of the same background for the top job, the presidency. Who should prefer Vice-President to President?

For the PNP, they chose the Central Region indigene Prof. de Graft-Johnson to partner Dr Limann. As far as I can tell, the choice of Prof. de Graft-Johnson was given to the party chairman, Nana Okutwer Bekoe, to make to reward him for accepting the chairmanship of the party.

Of course, many believe it was the split in the front of the PFP which resulted in the formation of the splinter party, the United National Convention of Pa William Ofori-Atta that cost the party victory. The jury is still out on a past, irrelevant claim.

In the event, Dr Limann won convincingly in the run-off, becoming President of our Third Republic. I note with amusement that whereas the PFP and UNC did not win a single seat in the Central Region, the PNP took the majority of seats in the region. The only coastal seat in the Central Region not won by Colonel Bernasko’s Action Congress Party was Effutu-Awutu-Senya, which was taken by the PNP candidate, the late Kow Arkaah.

Fast forward to 1992 and the pattern was nearly replicated. The leftish NDC of President Rawlings won two terms comfortably with his two running mates, Kow Arkaah in the first term and Prof.

Mills for the second term. Then came the victory of the NPP in 2000 led by President Kufuor whose running mate was Vice-President Aliu Mahama from the Northern Region.

Interestingly, President Kufuor won the same six regions both terms and the opposition NDC also retained the same four regions. It is instructive to note that Prof. Mills lost the 2000 polls with his running mate being Martin Amidu, who then was Deputy Attorney General to Dr Obed Asamoah. The NDC lost again in 2004 with Prof. Mills who had changed his running mate to Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni also from the north.

The NDC returned to power with Prof. Mills partnered by now President John Mahama who is now running for his second term because of the unexpected death of President Mills in 2012. The opposition ticket of Nana Akufo-Addo and Dr Bawumia has been maintained since 2008 to date. It is relevant to wonder then, why the presence of another northerner on the NPP ticket since 2008 has not done the trick whereas the ruling NDC has won twice already, in 1992 and 1996 with a south-south ticket, and in 2012, with a north-south ticket of President Mills and then Vice-President John Mahama.


A few obvious facts are noticeable in this recitation. The NDC keeps rebranding itself and renewing its appeal to voters by changing the regions their presidential candidates come from whereas the NPP leadership is stuck in two regions for reasons which appear unconvincing to me.

This is what makes the appeal to ethnocentric politicking stick. One can argue that both scenarios are in reality unconscious but one is electable and the other not. Indeed, in 2008 and 2012, the opposition NPP got most of its votes from the two regions their presidential candidates came from. What does this mean? On the other hand, the NDC secures most votes from the region that their first leader, President Rawlings comes from. What confuses matters, and invites tribal exploitation, is when Mr Osafo-Marfo can say with confident assurance that the presidency must necessarily come from resource-rich regions, and the Nasara Co-ordinator of the NPP also asserts that his party is not ready yet for a northern President.

It is clear ,therefore, that it is a question of strategy and political acumen, which appeals to our various ethnic groups, that wins election in this country.

This would mean that the 2000 NPP victory was a fluke occurrence in which the longevity of President Rawlings in office was the decider, and not the choice of ticket, because its natural results to rotate leadership to reflect the country are now being stoutly fiercely resisted and the status quo defended.