At 9:50 p.m. on Sunday 9th December 2012, Dr. Afari Gyan, the Chair of Ghana’s Electoral Commission declared President John Mahama winner of the December 7th election with 50.70% of the votes cast while his main opponent scored 47.74%. Over eleven million people voted with the huge turnout of 79.43% of the electorate. Sunday was an extremely tense as all Ghanaians awaited the formal declaration of the results which were generally known by Sunday morning. As all results were announced on radio and television as soon as they were declared at polling units and collation centres, it was easy to know the outcome. Tension started rising on Saturday when the General Secretary of the opposition NPP declared that that their candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo had won with 51% of the votes while the President obtained 45% of the vote. No one apparently took the announcement seriously because the major revelation of the election was that all parties except the two leading ones have essentially been wiped out as players in the electoral system and the six other candidates got a cumulative score of only 1.5%.
The National Peace Council came out to strongly criticise the NPP for illegally declaring results and urged them to exercise restraint in the interest of peace. Meanwhile, the National Peace Council and their partners of the Institute of Democratic Governance met political parties all of Sunday afternoon to calm them down and also made the rounds of television stations.
While the opposition NPP has refused to accept the verdict, all observers and analysts have been insistent that the elections were free, fair, and credible and above all – violence free. Clearly, the numerous pleas to maintain the peace have been listened to in spite of the great passion with which the election battle was fought. The voter turnout was very high and in many places, people were already in queues by 3 a.m. and waited patiently for the opening at 7 a.m. Voters were orderly, polling staff were well trained on the whole and scrupulously following laid out procedure. The voters played their part and were very disciplined.
The New Patriotic Party (NPP) presidential candidate, Nana Akufo Addo is 68 years-old and as the Constitution bars people of 70 years and older from contesting, this is his last chance and there were clear signs of desperation in his camp. They desperately wanted a minimum outcome of a second round of the presidential elections. The ruling National Democratic Congress streamed into the streets Sunday night to celebrate their victory. Both candidates in reality are determined to win and the language of the campaign has been intense and often abusive. Scurrilous stories have been printed about both candidates including all sorts of stories about corruption, drugs, sex and immorality. Some of the FM stations controlled by politicians have engaged in the use of vitriolic language and hate speech. Macho boys for the two parties have also clashed a number of times.
The fact of the matter was that the election campaign was issue based. The opposition NPP stole the show from the beginning by declaring that they would implement an immediate policy measure of free senior secondary school education which turned out to be very popular. The ruling NDC were embarrassed into lame responses that they will do the same after planning and building the requisite infrastructure. Creating jobs for the youth was also a question at the heart of the campaign.
The NDC also had to contend with the strange behaviour of their founder Jerry Rawlings and his wife Nana Konado Rawlings. Rawlings was very ambivalent about his support for John Mahama and only came out to support his campaign a few days before the vote. Nana Konado Rawlings was maybe one of the most imperial and powerful first ladies in African history. In 2000, at the end of her husband’s second term in office, she had tried to contest for the Presidency which she thought she was poised to win having established structures in all districts in the country. Eventually, people say that her husband was able to persuade her not to contest. She however contested for the party presidential against late President Mills and was disgraced. She then set up a party – the National Democratic Party (NDP) with the clear intention of taking votes away from her former party, the NDC and compromising the chances of John Mahama. Her husband vacillated for weeks between supporting his wife and the party he had founded. Nana Konado Rawlings solved his problem by submitting her nomination forms to the Electoral Commission late and getting disqualified. In a comedy of errors, 48 hours before the elections, the candidate of the NPP announced to jubilant crowds that Nana Konado was backing his candidature but she denied and Nana Akufo-Addo had to come on television to apologise to Ghanaians for misleading them.
In a sense, fate was against Nana Akufo-Addo. He ran a very good issue-based campaign. His opponent Atta Mills was very sick and weak and was clearly not capable of ruling due to ill health. This created a situation in which many NDC supporters were drifting towards supporting Akufo-Addo. Then Atta Mills died and the young, vibrant and affable Vice President, John Mahama became the presidential candidate creating a bounce back in support for the NDC.
As it was widely known that the elections would be very close, political parties had placed emphasis on biometric identification of voters to prevent electoral. In response, the Electoral Commission developed a system of accreditation of voters through the use of voter verification machines as the technological high point of the election. It turned out to the Achilles heel. The Electoral Commission had lined up a triple verification process to ensure voters were truly eligible. Voters present their voters card for verification and after the card is checked, their names and photographs are checked on the voters list. Thirdly, voters are checked with an electronic verification machine that certifies that the name, card and fingerprint correspond with the human being presenting himself or herself at the polling unit. In a few places, the technology failed and since the rules says the third verification through the made in China machine is the final qualifier to vote, many people could not vote. Indeed, in some polling units voting had to continue to Saturday after arrangements to provide new machines are concluded announced by an embarrassed Commission Friday evening.
The mood in Ghana this Monday morning is one of contentment. The sixth general elections that took place on the 7th of December were free, fair, and credible and above all – violence free. For the first time, the voters list was generally considered to have been accurate although some minors managed to get on to the register. The Chair of the Electoral Commission, Dr. Afari-Gyan can go to bed tonight confident and relaxed that for the sixth time, he has done a good job.
In the past two weeks that I have been In Ghana, one issue that has been on many people’s mind is the rationality of the winner takes all nature of the electoral system. Mahama got 5,574,761 votes while his opponent Nana Akufo-Addo got 5,284,898 and one will get all the power while the other gets nothing. It is definitely not a just system and Ghana would have to think of developing a more inclusive political system. Ghana has a strong tradition of the ethnic vote but what is interesting is that some of the ethnic votes swing from election to election which shows significant maturity of the voter. Civil society played a huge role focusing the parties on issue based campaigns and persuading all Ghanaians to avoid violence. Finally, one of the most impressive outcomes of Ghanaian elections is the development of the skirt and blouse culture. This means that in many constituencies, voters will vote one party for the presidential election and vote for the opposing party in the parliamentary election. This is another good indication of the maturity of the Ghanaian voter. Long live skirts and blouses.
Jibrin Ibrahim who works for the Centre for Democracy and Development in Nigeria is reporting from the IDEG/CFI Situation Room in Accra 10th December 2012