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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Why the elephant is back in the bush

Nana Akufo-Addo has made it very clear that he and the NPP intend to go to court to challenge some of the second round presidential poll results from the Volta Region. They are convinced that the votes from Volta were so skewed against them because their party agents were hounded from some polling stations and in some cases severely beaten, making it possible for some ballot boxes to be stuffed. The acts of violence did occur and they should be condemned in no uncertain terms.

Those who engaged in these criminal acts ought to be arrested and punished as the law prescribes. I completely agree with Nana Addo’s assertion that no part of this country should be no-go areas for some agents of certain political parties. This is one of the issues we need to address as we seek to build a vibrant democracy in our country. And if going to court provides some solutions, so be it.

I hope, however, that the NPP’s legal challenges are not meant to convince themselves that violence and other electoral irregularities cost them the elections. They were trounced fair and square. If they are interested in capturing power ever again, they need to start being honest with themselves (for a change) and start coming to terms with why they lost in such a shocking manner.

The NPP lost these polls in the first round. A ruling party which loses 20 legislative seats in an election is a party in decline. So after the parliamentary polls, the NPP should have realised that it had lost favour with the electorate and that it had squandered the goodwill that brought the party and John Kufuor to power eight years ago. Had it not been for the NDC’s credibility issues, the presidential race wouldn’t have gone into a second round.

This election was a referendum on the Kufuor administration. And the people voted to show their disapproval of what he has done in his two terms. If Kufuor’s administration had been half the “listening government” it claimed to be, we would be looking at a completely different script. The outgoing government’s measure of its successes was based more on what the “international community” said than on what Ghanaians felt. Whenever people pointed to lapses in government policies and programmes, they would tell us to listen to what a Wall Street investment banker or a World Bank economist had said. When people complained about being broke, Kufuor retorted that only “lazy” people complained about not having money in their pockets.

To put it mildly, the man simply lost touch with the people. He wasn’t in the country most of the time. He cared more for dinners in the Elysee Palace and cocktails at Downing Street than in interacting with the market traders at Makola and Kejetia who voted him into power.

Kufuor also failed to deliver on much of the promises. For example, he promised to run a trim, lean and mean government. But he ended up with a fat, gluttonous administration. He had more ministers than his predecessor did and at some points it seemed like all his best friends and buddies were serving in government. Even where there were no vacancies, he created them just for his friends to fill.

Kufuor promised “zero tolerance” for corruption at his inauguration. As he prepares to leave office, graft is as fashionable as ever. I don’t think there is a single government official today who can confidently thump his chest and say that “I didn’t use public office for private gain.” I dare even the president to swear on ‘Antoa Nyama’ that he didn’t “chop small”.

Kufuor and his chums also became arrogantly complacent. After his election as NPP presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo proclaimed: “this election is ours to lose”. They were so cocksure that anyone who dared to point it out to them that they were not as good as they thought became a pariah. At the height of the complacency, Kufuor decided to reward himself and his cronies for whatever good he felt they might have done the nation. Those shameful national honours, given out like cheap, left-over ‘bofrote’ to undeserving men and women, marked Kufuor and members of his administration down as an arrogant bunch who cared more about glorifying themselves than seeing to the welfare of the people. Whiles they were spending billions on ‘bling-bling’ medals to adorn their necklines, millions of people were crying for a commodity as basic as drinking water.

The sins of the Kufuor administration are many. And they are largely to blame for the NPP’s defeat. But other factors which contributed to the NPP’s defeat had little to do with the outgoing president.

Party discipline was compromised when 17 men jostled for the NPP’s presidential nomination. For some, this was a good sign of the expansion of democratic choice not just within the party but in the country as a whole. But for most Ghanaians it was also a sign that the party’s top guns had become corrupt, greedy and desperate. All the 17 candidates who vied for the right to lead the NPP to the general elections knew that being president bestowed an individual with certain endowments that could, for example, help your children to acquire hotels and build shopping malls.

The NPP’s messy (and some might say, bloody) parliamentary primaries were also a sign of the breakdown of party discipline. The acrimonious parliamentary primaries caused a lot of disaffection within and particularly at the grassroots. This, inevitably, broke the party’s front at different levels and many decided to their shoulders off the wheel. For example, after losing the right to run for re-election on the party’s ticket in Cape Coast, Christine Churcher, decided to take the back seat. It was only when she realised the party was on the verge of losing (and this was after the first round) that she staged that dramatic begging act in front of some fishermen and fishmongers. It turned out to be too little, too late.

In yet another sign that the NPP had lost touch with the people, the sort of campaign you would use to market ‘Omo’ and ‘Key soap’ – largely on radio and TV and with gigantic billboards strewn across the country. The closest they got to the people was to stage beach jams and huge, impersonal rallies. On the other hand, Atta Mills (sick, as we were made to believe) moved from door-to-door, interacting with the people and making them feel that he shared in their frustrations and disappointments. As Atta Mills said “I care for you” to the people, the NPP scoffed at his strategy. After the shock from the first round, the NPP decided to also get ‘personal’ with the electorate. Once again, it was too little, too late. The people had made up their mind and despite their own uncertainty about the sort of government the NDC would provide, they decide to take a risk and vote for Atta Mills. And that’s why I believe strongly that people didn’t vote for Atta Mills and the NDC per se – they rather voted against John Kufuor and the NPP. They thought that fantastic promises – like providing free secondary education will win them the votes.

They thought that demonising Rawlings and making him a campaign issue will scare Ghanaians away from the NDC. They were wrong. No wonder, therefore, that the elephant is back in the bush.

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E-mail: ato@atokd.com