The mood in Ghana is one of high optimism that the sixth general elections taking place on the 7th of December will be free, fair, and credible and above all – violence free. The country is on the bounce. Ghana has just made the transition from a low to medium income country with an average income of $1,000 per head. Newly found petrol adds $600 a year to the national revenue and agitations for resource control has not started. They have just concluded biometric voters registration exercise and when the numbers were crunched, only 5’000 multiple registrations were discovered out of over 14 million. The fraudsters have been removed from the roll. 70% of eligible voters are young – below 40 years while 50.4% of eligible voters are women. In 2008, 30% of voters turned up for voter verification when the list was released. This year, 68% of voters participated in the verification process, the Electoral Commission made it easy by allowing verification to be done by telephone SMS. On voting day, the verification machines, plus spare copies will be available in polling stations. And yet, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission has been under intense fire.
The statutory constituency re-delimitation he embarked upon that led to the creation of 45 additional constituencies has been criticised. Even the registration of voters has been challenged in court and a judge has ordered registration continues in some provinces just days to the elections. The criticisms against the Chair of the Electoral Commission, Dr. Afari-Gyan appear however to be formalistic as there is a wide consensus that he has proved his competence and impartiality since he assumed the post to conduct the 1992 elections.
Ghanaian politics are extremely bifurcated with two dominant parties, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) on the left continuing the Nkrumah tradition while the New Patriotic Party (NPP) pursues J. B. Danquah’s conservative rightwing tradition. The NPP candidate, 68 year-old Nana Akufo Addo has the illustrious heritage of having three blood relations being part of the six original founders of the United Gold Coast Convention while the NDC’s 54 year-old candidate John Mahama’s father was Nkrumah’s companion and member of parliament for Gonja West in the North. Yes, it is the ideological divide but it is also deeply ethnic with the NPP getting the support of the Ashanti and other Akan ethnic groups (45% of the population) while the NDC has the support of the Eve and other smaller groups. The two parties between them always have about 45% of the vote each in the kitty, the elections is about the tiny swing vote.
In the past eight days that I have been in Ghana, both parties have been drumming that it will be a one touch election. This means one party will be the 50% plus one that is necessary to avoid a second round. It has been difficult to say which one will actually win and polls as well as spiritualists have come out for each of the candidates. The language of one touch of course derives from the cell phone which means getting your call across on the first attempt and without network problems.
Both candidates appear to be 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 while communal clashes have already broken out in certain areas. It was in this context that the Kumasi Declaration was conceived by our partner, the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG), the National Peace Council (NPC) and the Manhyia Palace of the Asante Hene on 27th November 2012. The Declaration by the eight presidential candidates contained an engagement to “on reducing recurring violence, impunity and injustice in democratic elections in the country.”
Specifically, they promised to provide firm political leadership to the impartial enforcement of the existing electoral laws by state institutions and strengthening the organizational capacities of their political parties to promote their members’ compliance with the codes of conduct that they had endorsed, including the deepening of civic education. In addition, they committed to respond to the growing public demand for elections-related offences and crimes to be effectively punished through professional investigations leading to fair, timely trials and justice.
Finally, they pledged:
• That it is time to take a definitive stand against electoral violence, impunity and injustice in our beloved nation Ghana because these acts are detrimental to the peace, welfare and sustained development of the people of Ghana.
• That electoral violence, impunity and injustice are not challenges whose persistence cannot be effectively stopped through our collective leadership efforts. Therefore, we are committed to leading a national process of reducing their recurrence in the short term, aiming to systematically eradicate them in the medium to long term.
• That ahead of the forthcoming elections on December 7, 2012, we shall forcefully and publicly speak out against all acts of electoral violence, impunity and injustice, whether perpetrated by the members of our political parties or our political rivals, and will seek to collaborate with the Police Service and allied law enforcement agencies to professionally discharge their duties without fear or favour.
• That we shall conduct our political campaigns in such a manner that the ability of the Police or other security agencies to perform their roles and duties in enforcing the law and maintaining law and order will not be hindered whatsoever whether at the polling station, constituency, community, district, regional or national levels.
• That we shall intensify and expand the scope of our civic and elections’ education activities such that the awareness and understanding of our members of the relevant electoral laws and the normative codes of conduct will improve. We shall also see to the strengthening of the policy and institutional capacities of our political parties so that internal compliance with the electoral laws and normative codes of conduct ratified by our political parties will be stronger and become widespread.
• That we pledge to hold ourselves mutually accountable as peers, especially, in promoting effective political leadership of the campaign against electoral violence, impunity and injustice.
Jibrin Ibrahim who works for the Centre for Democracy and Development in Nigeria is reporting from the IDEG/CFI Situation Room in Accra