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Opinions of Friday, 21 March 2014

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Will Nana Akufo-Addo be Third Time Lucky?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

Yesterday, Nana Akufo-Addo confirmed what every Ghanaian has been expecting. That is, he will contest the NPP Flagbearership for the 2016 Presidential Election when the party opens nominations later this year. This article is an analysis of his chances of success of the third consecutive attempt at capturing the Presidency. Prior to yesterday, events in Ghana especially since his return home from his six months holiday in London (NPP members and supporters trooping to his residence, NPP Regional Executives paying homage to him, his triumphant visit to Kumasi/Manhyia Palace) only pointed to the obvious. Now that the cat is finally out of the bag, I want to share my analysis and conclusion that, Nana Akufo-Addo is not a spent force and actually poses a greater threat to NDC in 2016 than in 2012. Indeed, his chances of securing the presidency are better in 2016 than they were in 2012. I am also of the view that Nana Akufo-Addo is either the shrewdest or one of the shrewdest politicians in contemporary Ghana.

After the Electoral Commission announced the results of the 2012 Presidential Election, all decisions and actions of Nana Akufo-Addo were strategically positioned to achieve one and only one objective, a third attempt. The first was the Presidential Petition. Having analysed the petition, it is now abundantly clear that the decision to challenge the results was a means to an end but not necessarily to overturn the results. I say so because, no one can convinced me that Akufo-Addo, an astute lawyer genuinely believed that the three reliefs that were dismissed unanimously by all the nine Justices were strong enough to have been included in the petition. In fact, the only objective of the petition was to make a case for him for a third attempt.

For those who may dispute the above, just imagine had Akufo-Addo simply conceded defeat and not challenged the results at the Supreme Court, his political obituary would have been written long time ago. The petition kept his relevance alive not only in NPP politics but also on Ghanaian and perhaps, the international stage. In fact, he became more powerful as a political figure after the SC decision with the excellent acceptance speech that won him hearts and minds across the globe and became a political super star. This golden opportunity would have been lost to him had he not contested the results at the Supreme Court. That was strategic and part of his overall plan to ensure that his name would be the ballot paper for 2016.

Had he not challenged the election results, most NPP leading members, supporters and sympathisers would have blamed him personally for the defeat. All sorts of allegations would have been made against him as causing the party’s second defeat such as his “all die be die” mantra, “yen Akanfuo” as well as for not dissociating himself from Kennedy Agyapong’s call for Gas and Ewes to attacked or beaten, etc.

Another of his strategic decisions was the self imposed six months exile in London. Again, imagine what would have happened had Nana Addo stayed put in Ghana after the petition. Leading members of the party who habour flagbearership ambitions would have accused him of instigating the party Chairman and General Secretary to openly support and campaign for his third attempt. Many would have also accused him of being behind the initial decision to have the National Delegates Conference at regional levels as well as the Afoko candidacy brouhaha. Others might have even accused him of destabilising the party. However, with his absence from the country he avoided all such negative and destructive accusations, though there is no doubt in my mind that, he remotely controlled events within the party from far away London. In fact, Nana Addo confirmed yesterday that he was in constant contact with people in Ghana throughout his stay in London. That is how shrewd political operator Nana Akufo-Addo is.

Having said the above what the chances of Nana Akufo-Addo’s third attempt at becoming the President of Ghana? If I am asked this question, my simple answer is, the future is bright for Nana Addo. Why do I say so?

First and foremost, Nana Akufo-Addo’s acceptance speech of the Supreme Court declaration on the presidential petition has gained him immense political capital. As a result the image of a belligerent, war monger or “patapaa” that the NDC tagged him with will no longer wash with independent voters. That is a huge advantage in a highly competitive election that the presidency is won by a few percentage points. This is excellent for his candidacy.

Second, the Mahama government is facing very serious problems/difficulties (challenges as they prefer) in managing the economy and the country. Corruption is the order of the day and lawlessness is the norm rather than exception. The government moves from one crisis to another and there appears to be no strategic vision for the short, medium and long terms solutions but only haphazard responses by ministers and government appointees. The cedi is in free fall against foreign currencies, rocketing inflation, inability to improve internally generated revenue to pay public sector workers and other essential services, including education, health and infrastructure development projects, etc. Ghana at the moment is not working and that is advantageous to any challenger if things do not improve. It would be time for change and that message would resonate with the electorate especially, independent voters.

I am not sure if past presidential election results could be accurately analysed for objective conclusions drawn from the pattern. I am referring to what I term as “two strikes and you are out”. The electorate gave both NDC (Rawlings) and NPP (Kufuor) the maximum two terms and on each occasion they change the party in government. If this is a developing customary practice by the Ghanaian electorate, then history could be on the side of Nana Akufo-Addo because NDC has had two terms and therefore 2016 could be time to change party in government (if my assumption is right).

However, Nana Akufo-Addo, his supporters and NPP should tread carefully on the above hypothesis because it has its weakness. Six elections in twenty years of multiparty democracy are not many and long enough for any objective and scientific analysis for accurate conclusions to be drawn from. Again, one is not sure if the voting pattern since the inception of Fourth Republican Constitution is party driven or candidate driven. It could be either, both or none. If it is party driven, then my earlier hypothesis is right but if it is candidate driven then, the odds could be against Nana Akufo-Addo.

Even if it is candidate driven, the three comparative candidates (the late Prof Mills, Ex-President Kufuor and Nana Akufo-Addo) are not easy to analyse because of varying factors. In Mills versus Kufuor on both occasions I suspect the message that “vote Mills and get Rawlings” did work until Mills showed that he could be his own man by rejecting the Rawlings’ preferred vice-presidential candidate in 2008 and made his own choice. Again, the electorate were tired of the P/NDC rule and wanted a change. So I doubt if the voting pattern of two terms and a change is candidate driven.

Another factor in Nana Akufo-Addo’s favour is the Free SHS policy now adopted by the Mahama administration. Nana Addo can claim credit for it and ask voters to put him in Flagstaff House to implement his policy as originally proposed, that is, in full and not the Mahama proposed piecemeal, though if by 2016 the policy is being enjoyed by voters, it would be difficult to use it as an effective campaign tool by Nana Addo.

This time round, I get the impression that NPP are desperate for political power and therefore they would do anything and everything to reduce and suppress their differences. That is, unity of purpose may be stronger than ever and that would also inure to the benefit of Nana Akufo-Addo’s electoral fortunes, if party unity could be strengthened and maintained up to 2016.

Third time lucky? Yes, the late Prof Mills got in on his third attempt so why not Nana Akufo-Addo? He will definitely reap the benefit of sympathy votes as a result of the manner in which Nana Akufo-Addo responded to the SC ruling from both independents and minor parties.

What are the risks or disadvantages against him? We should not be kidding ourselves that because Nana Akufo-Addo still looks younger and healthier than his age, that would not be a factor for 2016. There are limits to what a man who is 70 can do, particularly in strenuous activities such as campaigning continuously across the width and breadth of the country, day and night, seven days a week. That would take its toll on him and his opponent will use his age against him, especially, if he has to slow down due to tiredness or even ill health during the campaign. A long held campaign could be a problem for him as no can cheat nature.

The advantage of incumbency is starkly against him as was in 2012. The opposition or challenger can only propose whilst the incumbent has the privilege of acting as in the case of the free SHS. President Mahama also has the advantage of implementing electoral advantageous policies even in the last days of the campaign, whilst Nana Akufo-Addo can at best, make promises or just stand and watch as it happened to Mitt Romney whilst Obama visited Hurricane Sandy hit Virginia in October 2012. Beating an incumbent President is yet to happen in Ghana and under the Fourth Republic.

If the voting pattern of the electorate is intended to rewrite the 1992 Constitution by giving each elected President and not the party the maximum two terms as has been happening since 1992, then, that would be another risk to Nana Addo’s third attempt because President Mahama could benefit from a second term as he only completed the unexpired time of Mills’s first term.

The risk of disunity within the NPP from now, after Nana Akufo-Addo has either been crowned or elected as the flagbearer till election day in is a potential danger. There is no doubt that, there are some party members with presidential ambitions who would not be happy with the Akufo-Addo third attempt. For this reason, it is probable that a minority could even work against him.

The risk of loose talk from leading party members, including Nana himself, his campaign team and inner advisers should be avoided at all cost. Repeats of statements such as “all die be die”, “beat or attack this or that ethnic group”, etc would end in disaster for both the flagbearer and the party. Most important, how Nana and the party leadership respond to any such irresponsible and dangerous talk would be crucial. If Nana and the party behave like the proverbial ostrich as was in the last election, when he kept quiet over Kennedy Agyapong’s incitement to racial hatred against other ethnic groups whilst the party gave him a hero’s home coming after his release from detention, then, voters should not blamed if they bear that in mind on election day.

Also avoid telling Ghanaian voters that they made a mistake in 2012 by electing President Mahama. That is an insult as NPP cannot claim to be clever than the millions of voters who voted for Mahama.

In conclusion, my candid opinion is that Nana Akufo- Addo stands a better chance on his third attempt than in 2012 (all things being equal). Only shrewd political operators such as Nana Addo get once in a life time chance but we should remember that two years is a very, very long time in politics and anything can happen. Nonetheless, if I am asked to design a campaign catchphrase for Nana Addo, it would be, “The Future is Bright, The Future is Nana Addo”.

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK