In DepthColumnsGhana's election hangover


Posted on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 00:46

Ghana's election hangover

Street sweepers were out at dawn on 10 December clearing up the debris of the wild parties organised by supporters of the victorious National Democratic Congress (NDC), the previous evening.

Celebrants had careered around the city sounding car horns and blaring highlife music within minutes of the announcement on Sunday evening by Electoral Commission chairman Kwadwo Afari-Gyan that John Dramani Mahama had won the presidential election with 50.70% of the votes cast.

Your correspondent was chatting with NPP (New Patriotic Party) and NDC supporters at a bar on Accra's Ring Road when two tro-tro buses full of revellers side-swiped each other with a grating crunch of metal. But the drivers barely skipped a beat, just gunned their engines again and headed towards the beach road with police motorcycles in hot pursuit.

Out in suburbs such as Achimota, the parties spread across the streets, taking on an almost carnival atmosphere.

Yet Monday's election hangover was due to more than just a Sunday evening of excess. It was the end of a marathon election campaigning season – that delighted and disappointed in almost equal measure. At least half of Accra seemed to be happy to see Mahama's return to power and listened avidly to his victory speech on Monday evening in which he pledged to run a government for all Ghanaians.

For good measure he quoted the founding President Kwame Nkrumah's exhortation to all the people of Ghana to pull together to build the nation.

A few hours earlier the chairman of the African Union, Benin's President Boni Yayi flew into Accra to congratulate Mahama and invite him to the next AU summit. It was another way of the AU setting the seal on Mahama's victory.

Mourning clothes

Boni Yayi also used the opportunity to try to persuade the opposition NPP to accept the result. But his meeting with NPP grandee and former President John Kufuor didn't work out: Kufuor told Yayi that there was no possibility of the NPP and Akufo Addo accepting the result until there was a serious examination of the NPP's claims of election malpractice.

It seems that the other half of Accra saw some merit in Kufuor's arguments. On Sunday evening they had declined to celebrate and many stayed in their houses. The most dedicated opposition supporters walked around the streets in black, mourning the failure of the New Patriotic Party's Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo to win the presidency. For many of them it was an undeserved failure because they attributed it to skulduggery by the ruling party and officials in the Electoral Commission.

Given the pattern of results coming from the Electoral Commission for the previous 48 hours Afari-Gyan's announcement of Mahama's triumph was no surprise. But it flew in the face of efforts by the opposition New Patriotic Party to get Afari-Gyan to suspend his announcement while the Commission investigated its complaints of systemic vote fraud.

Perhaps sensing the growing tension in the capital – by mid-afternoon soldiers had taken position around the Electoral Commission headquarters as NPP protestors called for a march on the building – Afari-Gyan announced Mahama's victory. It was Afari-Gyan's swansong as chairman of the Electoral Commission; and although he has presided over elections won by both the two main parties in the Ghana – the NDC and the NPP – his decision to go ahead with the announcement prompted calls of high-handedness and worse by the opposition NPP.

But the immediate problem for the NPP was its lack of allies among the local and foreign election observers. The Ghanaian observer group – CODEO – held a press conference prior to the announcements and judged the election and vote count to be free, fair and credible. It placed some 5,000 observers in 1,500 of the country's 23,000 polling stations, watched carefully for malfeasance and also ran its own parallel voter tabulation as a check on the calculations of the official Electoral Commission.

Although CODEO reported several technical problems and delays in delivery of materials, it didn't find any evidence of a systematic distortion of the vote count or of attempts to undermine the Electoral Commission's independence. Observers from the Commonwealth Monitoring group and the Economic Community of West African States similarly endorsed the conduct of the elections.

That doesn't preclude the existence of voter fraud but it will make it much harder to prove. And to win its case the opposition NPP has to persuade the election tribunals set up under Chief Justice Georgina Wood that the election malpractice was widespread enough to invalidate the entire election.

Undaunted the NPP has brought together its top lawyers to coordinate its election petitions which it says will provide compelling proof of a political conspiracy. It says it will quote from several cases similar to that launched by the party's MP for Dome Kwabenya, Adwoa Safo, in which she says she found evidence that 15,000 votes had been illegally added to NDC's vote tally. Although Safo's opponent, the NDC candidate Sophia Ackuaku has denied all wrongdoing.

So after Ghana's longest and most expensive election campaign ever, the country now faces the prospect of a protracted courtroom battle over the validity of the elections and the neutrality of the Electoral Commission. Short of an improbable political deal between the leaders of the NDC and the NPP, there looks to be no other way out. Anyone who thought the December 7 election might have brought an end to the abrasive partisanship of Ghana's public life is going to be deeply disappointed.

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


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