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The Navrongo experience

Author:
Sun Ra
Date:
2003-04-01 15:42:22


The Navrongo experience

John Mahama

March 31, 2003

A new behemoth has taken over the political landscape, more ruthless and less restrained in its use of all the advantages of incumbency to retain political power. My experience in fighting in the political trenches of Navrongo reveal to me clearly that there is the need for some re-engineering and a return to the political drawing board.

This column deals this week with a superficial reflection on the experiences of the Navrongo bye-election. A more detailed commentary of course is reserved for inner party discussion.

STRATEGIC RE-ALIGNMENT OF POLITICAL FORCES

There is the need for a strategic realignment of political forces on the left of centre of the ideological plain. In the run-up to the 2000 elections, the PNC, CPP and other mainly social democratic parties had aligned with the NPP to effect a political change. The result of this joint assault was the defeat of the NDC in a bruising 2-round electoral battle. Navrongo has over the years been an area where the PNC draws quite considerable support. With the selection of a formidable candidate like Lawyer Gabriel Scott Pwamang, the PNC had the legitimate right to hope that it could win the seat. In the ferocity of the vote and Election Day tensions, it was difficult to accept that the PNC and NPP had been political allies barely two years ago in the ouster of the NDC. In some areas, the political rivalry and tension were more adversarial between the PNC and NPP, than between the NPP and NDC. In Nayagnia, a PNC stronghold and the hometown of the PNC candidate, political thugs from Bawku threatened mayhem through out the voting process. In the Kolgo area the campaign manager of the PNC was beaten mercilessly with bicycle chains by thugs imported from Tamale.

The NPP has made clear both in the speech of its leadership and in the party?s philosophy that it is a liberal-democratic party committed to the establishment of a property owning democracy in Ghana. It subscribes to Conservative Party traditions and is aligned in political thought to the Tories, Republicans and Christian Democrats of the developed economies. Most of the remaining political parties including the Nkrumahist parties and the NDC subscribe to a Social Democratic political tradition. It is necessary to engineer a political alliance of the left, if the philosophy of social democracy is to remain a formidable force on the Ghanaian political landscape. Certainly there are many obstacles in the way of achieving this laudable goal. The events of ?79 and ?81, the persona of President Rawlings and the fallout between one-time political comrades are all challenges in achieving such an objective. While these challenges are difficult, they are not insurmountable.

THE PROBLEM OF FUNDING

The NDC faces a major problem of party funding. For a party, which a short while ago had, people queuing to make donations to its war chest, the situation in Navrongo was very different. There were shortages of all manner of campaign material from posters and flags to fuel. Supply of the items were sporadic and lack of adequate fuel constrained movement to an extent. It is necessary for the party to embark on a vigorous resource mobilization drive. While the party may not ultimately be able to match the ruling party ?cedi for cedi? in terms of campaign finance, we must reach a level that allows the party?s activists to smoothly carry the party?s message down to the electorate. A party may have an excellent message, but without the resources to get that message to the electorate using all available channels of communication, one labours in vain.

Both in Wulensi and Navrongo, there was a delay in dispatching the national office campaign support team to the ground. Thus in both cases there was a two-week period of anaemic work by the Candidates, backed by the Regional and Constituency executive teams.

THE CANDIDATE AND INTERNAL PARTY WRANGLINGS

A more competitive process of selection of the candidate would have ensured that the best person emerged to represent the party in the bye-election. Such competition would have ensured that even if Clement Bugase emerged ultimately as the candidate in the bye-election, he would have the support of the bulk of the party structure. Unfortunately, the response to the announcement of primaries was dismal. NDC has many fine people in its membership in the Navrongo Central Constituency. Most of these are however public servants or government employees and were scared off by the prospect of job loss or victimization if they run and lost. . Clement Bugase emerged from the primaries unopposed.

I was surprised at the disarray and wrangling in both the regional and constituency party executive. Many members of the regional and constituency executive had one grievance or another. The net effect was that while some remained apathetic to the campaign, a small minority actually worked at variance to the candidate and thereby jeopardized his chances of winning. The most galling case was the bad blood between the Regional Vice-Chairman and the candidate. The two are reported to be closely related and hail from the same area and yet do not talk to each other. All these and many more factors constrained the creation of an effective party machine to adequately prosecute the campaign in Navrongo.

INCUMBENCY AND ITS ADVANTAGES

Incumbents have a huge advantage in any bye-election. Where it is ruthlessly exploited as in the case of Bimbilla, Wulensi and Navrongo, it creates a very uneven playing field and puts the minority parties at a huge disadvantage.

While the electoral process itself was largely free and fair, but for a few isolated incidents, Navrongo displayed the full impact of the advantages of incumbency. Apart from the more benign manifestations of the use of state resources such as vehicles by ministers and other state officials for campaigning, there were the more serious ones such as the visit of the Vice President, distribution of enticements, fast tracking of projects, and greater coverage given the incumbent by the state owned URA Radio than the minority parties.

The Vice President decided to pay a working visit to the Upper East Region on the eve of the election. While the 4-day working visit was supposed to cover the entire region, it is clear that the Vice President concentrated his activities on the Bolgatanga and Navrongo areas. It is obvious that the visit was purposely for the bye-election as the Veep addressed rallies and was accompanied to various parts of the Navrongo Central constituency by the NPP brass, the security services, the media and the candidate. In all these areas, various promises were made and assurance given on behalf of government.

Perhaps more disruptive was the directive from the District Commander of Police to the NDC Party to suspend its campaign activities in various parts of the constituency for the 21st and 22nd of March because of the Veep?s visit. Considering that the last day allowed for campaigning was the 23rd, this action had the effect of interfering with the campaign programme of the largest minority party.

Overwhelming coverage given to the Veep during his tour by the local URA Radio, ensured that the ruling party?s message was relayed to the electorate in all the local languages. There were promises of almost ?1 billion supports for the War Memorial hospital in Navrongo, and funding for UDS from the GETFUND. There was also a dam project for Akrugu Dabor and many other such projects.

Development of roads and electrification were fast tracked. Roads were graded and re-shaped, clinics were re-roofed and the Mayoro community had electricity connected on the eve of the vote. The contractor was asked to ensure that the power supply was connected by the 24th of March. Truly on the 24th the system was switched on with only one fluorescent tube in front of the Chief?s palace. The NDC supporters in the area told us that they had been threatened that if they did not vote for the NPP candidate, the transformer will be taken back.

There was open enticement of voters both with monetary gifts and materials. In one chief's house he showed us some quantity of bags of rice, 5 packets of exercise books and told us he had been given also ?2.5 million. We presented him with the customary schnapps, delivered our message and left. He promised to support us in the main election, but not this one which he described as a ?small election.?

There was also the widespread use of thugs imported from Bawku and Tamale to intimidate political opponents. This created tension at some polling stations. It is a wonder that there was not more violence than the isolated incidents involving the brutalization of the PNC Campaign Manager.

Surely with the adversity the NDC faces, it is still a great party to even poll the numbers it is getting in the various bye-elections. If you consider predictions by the NPP leadership and some of the media that the NDC cannot survive in oposition, it is a credit rather than a shame that the party is not only still very much alive and kicking, but also able to contest the various bye-elections and poll significant numbers of votes.

Navrongo must serve as a source of experience to propel the minority parties back to the drawing board. While not much can be done to completely eliminate the incumbency advantage, a lot can be done to minimize it. A lot can also be done if minority parties agree to work together. Surely with strategic planning the resource constraint facing the minority parties can be overcome.

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