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Opinions of Saturday, 25 April 2020

Columnist: Emmanuel Osei

Why NDC lost the 2016 elections: Possible rebound or otherwise

Emmanuel Osei Emmanuel Osei

Before the Prof. Kwesi Botchwey Committee could begin its work on why the NDC lost the 2016 Presidential Elections, I had full grasped of the reasons and understandings of the factors that led to the NDC’s poor performance in the 2016 elections.

I had gone round the country, interviewing National Secretaries of the two dominant political parties (NPP and NDC), Regional Chairmen, Constituency Executives and Polling Stations Executives in selected strong-holds (rural and urban) and swing constituencies across Ghana for my MPhil Political Science Thesis titled The Management of Political Party Membership in Ghana: A Comparative Study of the New Patriotic Party and The National Democratic Congress in the 4th Republic. Several tenses of face-to-face interviews were conducted. For now, let's focus on the NDC’s introduction of biometric/electronic membership database.

Even though the issue of corruption allegations against members of the then NDC government, questioned economy, leaders of campaign teams and how they used campaign funds, the use of party name in clandestinely soliciting funds from individual and cooperate institutions remains an undeniable contributing factor, the NDCs disregard for its core members/supporters and their wellbeing, downplayed the significance of swing voters, overreliance on and excitement over JM’s infrastructural prowers/projects as a magic wand and which was poorly marketed by even though resourceful, but weak and less focused national communication team, and the NDCs over-reliance on a good but inadequately rolled-out electronic/biometric database weighs heavier.

Even though the electronic/biometric membership database remains a very important component in the management of political party members, e-membership database is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.

The NDCs introduction and adoption of biometric/electronic membership database in the run-up to the 2016 elections was poorly implemented, managed and relied on. Traditionally, political parties maintained a book-keeping list of all registered members at the regional, constituency and polling station level.

Attendance was kept and marked “yes” or “absent” or with “?” or “x” when members attend meetings or otherwise. Same was done for payment and non-payment of dues as a yardstick in measuring members activeness, commitment or dormancy.

With this, regional, constituency and polling station executives were able to track the activeness or otherwise of members using meetings attendance and payment of dues as a yardstick.

However, with the introduction of the NDCs biometric system (e-membership database), there was no (not as I knew of) provision for an electronic register that monitored the attendance as well as payment of party dues at the constituency and polling station level.

This led to a disconnect and or weakened relationship between the NDC Party and its core members at the local level. Why? Because Hofmeister & Grabow (2011: 55) cited in Osei (2017) argue that membership “fees are a sign of the bond between members and their party”.

Following from this, regional, constituency and polling station executives had little or no knowledge of the emerging as growing non-active or dormant members at the constituency and polling station level. This led to a general membership fallout whose resultant effect was the voter apathy suffered by the NDC in the 2016 General Elections particularly in its strong-holds across the country.

Note, while membership dues may not constitute a significant part of political party financing in Ghana “giving money to a political party or an interest group instead of actively working for it allows individual to feel psychologically engaged, even though they are not actively involved” and see themselves as part-owners of the party.

The unchecked fallout or reduction in the number of NDC party members paying party dues should have sent a strong signal to the Party’s Leadership of the looming danger (members apathy) ahead of the 2016 elections.

Political parties are more likely to overlook and underestimate the importance of membership dues in strengthening the bond between party members, especially when in power and with state resources at their disposal. Interestingly, the NPP is likely to make the same mistakes its managers do not draw lessons from this.

If the NDC is to win or make a meaningful impact in the 2020 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, it must not only rely on the current state of its e-membership database.

The NDC would have to embark or a nationwide door-to-door (face-to-face) campaign while maintaining a parallel book-keeping record at the regional, constituency and polling stations level across the country.

This will help the party keep track of its active and non-active members, initiate plans to follow up and re-engage non-active or dormant party members on face-to-face bases while reaching out to swing voters via multiple mediums (electronic and face-to-face).

I will deliberate on the other factors in my next publication.

By Emmanuel Osei
Party Membership Management Consultant