THE DAY AFTER Mills
Calm has finally returned and the tragic dust on Ghana's high profile death has settled after almost three weeks of mourning.
The morbid atmosphere was triggered by the sudden death of President John Evans Atta Mills who died on July 24, 2012. The time of his death is still a subject of controversy.
Prof Mills is the first president in Ghana's 55-year post independent history to have died in active service and the reverberating shock of his death sent ripples through the very core of Ghanaian sensitivities.
Now, there is a general air of decorum and tranquility in the political atmosphere after the late president has been buried.
The lull came a few days after the demise of John Mills when a momentary pause on political activities were mutually agreed upon by all political parties gunning for the general elections.
The Media Foundation for West African (MFWA), in a report released recently on its language-use monitoring project, indicated a steady decline in the use of indecent and intemperate language on radio stations as a result of the death of President Atta Mills.
As much as the nation may have wanted to mourn its fallen president some more, politics must resume. Already, the political wheels have begun to turn as the various political parties resume active party politicking.
Ghana's sixth presidential and parliamentary elections, since 1992, are barely four months away and politicians have no choice but to continue stocking their political arsenals in their bid to outshine their opponents.
Incidentally, President Mills was the flagbearer of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and he died just when the political momentum was picking up; this threw the front of the NDC into total confusion, or maybe not.
Nevertheless, soon after his tragic death, his deputy, Vice President John Dramani Mahama, was hurriedly confirmed as the NDC's flagbearer.
This became necessary because constitutionally, by virtue of him being the second-in-command, he automatically stepped up the rung to become the president after the death of his boss.
The simple act of changing the old guard in the NDC totally altered the political dynamics in Ghana.
The biggest opposition, New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the other minor opposition parties were presented with a problem because all along, their key selling point was to discredit the leadership capabilities of late President Mills.
The deceased flagbearer was heavily criticized for his apparent ill health. It was an open secret that John Mills was battling a terminal cancer and his apparent lack of authority over his appointees.
His oversights were mostly blamed for the depth to which the Ghanaian economy plunged since the NDC assumed power in 2009.
President Mahama's leadership quality and his ability to steer the economy have not been fully tested, yet in four months, the opposition parties would have to do a yeoman's job to convince Ghanaians that President John Mahama falls in the same league as his predecessor.
For now, John Mahama may count himself lucky because he had not personally received the kind of bad press his predecessor had to deal with.
What is not immediately clear is whether John Mahama can do the job and warm himself back into the hearts of the electorate within and outside his party. However, he is seen as part and parcel of the Mills troubled system.
Some people believe he could ride on the massive support and solidarity that the NDC garnered during the long mourning and funeral rites President Mills.
During the period, Ghanaians from all political divides gave the NDC government all the needed support to navigate the difficult times.
Some NDC party supporters are convincing themselves that they could reap some sympathy votes.
Dela Edem, a communications member on the NDC campaign team, states his optimism, 'I wouldn't be able to say, but I believe strongly that in every misfortune, there is some kind of blessing.'
He was quick, though, to note that any potential sympathy vote will come with a condition.
'The conditions are that those of us who continue to speak for the NDC on radio must begin to portray certain character: depart from the old way of shouting on radio to a point where we take our time to discuss issues and when they [the electorate] are touched, we are likely to have that sympathy translated into the votes we so much need.'
But, Kwasi Jonah, a Political Science lecturer at the University of Ghana, Legon, thinks otherwise. According to him, the general somberness should not be misconstrued as political support.
'They [the NDC] could reap some kind of sympathy votes, but you know, between now and the election time is a long way, Ghanaians forget very easily.
Just give us another month and people would have forgotten about the funeral and go to their day-to-day existential problems,' says Mr Jonah who has done extensive studies of the Ghanaian political terrain.
According to him, the general sympathy and solidarity exhibited by Ghanaians during the funeral rites of late John Mills was just a normal cultural response to misfortune.
'Never, since we became independent, has any head of state died in office, so that is part of the reason why there has been so much tranquility,' he says.
When asked about his opinion on the possibility of Ghanaians voting cardinally on sympathy, the National Chairman of the People's National Congress, Alhaji Ahmed Ramadan responded, 'That one, I don't think I can vouch on it. Yes, we sympathize with the late president.
If he were to be around and it was a little disaster that happened to him and people expressed this kind of sympathy and he goes into the election, probably there would be that sympathy, but now, he is not there and it is a new person altogether I don't think the NDC should be expecting to see sympathy votes, they have to really work and really work hard for it.'
Popular pollster and editor of the Daily Dispatch newspaper, Benjamin Ephson, share the same views.
'Yes people will sympathize, but I think that is it. As for sympathy votes, I will be surprised.
It will be naÃ¯ve to expect that you go and say Mills is dead so vote for me,' says Ben Ephson.
From the NPP's point of view, nobody is going to gain any sympathy votes. According to Sylvester Tetteh, an aspiring parliamentary candidate on the ticket of the NPP, 'What is sympathy votes in the first place; will the dead come back when you vote for him? He is dead and we still have no water in my constituency it doesn't change anything.'
It is estimated that about 30 percent of the Ghanaian population are categorized in the 'floating voters' class.This section of voters is the real determiner of electoral results; it is more discerning and hardly influenced by transient considerations such as the death of a candidate in an election.
Indeed, this voting class whom Ben Ephson calls the 'Kingmakers' would care less about the petty considerations and would vote purely based on their conviction about the socio-economic policies of political parties.
Currently, as the political scene stands, particularly after the death of ex-President Mills, Ben Ephson thinks the game could be everybody's game.
According to him, so many things can change within the few months left for the elections to be conducted. Even the pollsters are cautious in the kind of polls they conduct during this period.
'Anybody who tells you he can do his polls now, he must be a magician or he is guessing,' Ben Ephson says.
Indeed, the Ghanaian electoral landscape is anticipated to change drastically as the ruling NDC mounts a campaign to level the grounds with the creation of new constituencies through the recent creation of district assemblies.
New constituencies will be boosted to 275 from 230, most of them slashing political strongholds in the middle.
New Game Plan
The dynamics and political calculations are fast changing, in sync with the visibly charged political climate.
First of all, there is a new kid on the block (President Mahama); also, the demeanor of voters has become more tempered and the physical demarcations have been tampered with.
'If you don't change [the game plan] then you would be very naÃ¯ve,' notes Ben Ephson.
'It is not a matter of a game-plan changing, it is a matter of the fact that there should be a little change in the direction,' Dela Edem counters. According to him, the NDC has realized that personal attacks in politics, 'is not good for our politics'.
Apparently, the NDC communicators had a code of ethics aimed at reflecting the character of its former flagbearer, John Evans Atta Mills.
Now John Mahama is said to be re-echoing that same code of ethics to ensure civility in the utterances of NDC communicators.
He says he had told the communication team, after the death of the president, that the communication strategy should reflect his character.
'Politics should be about the contest of ideas, rather than discussing the personalities,' he says.
Yet, a few NDC spokespersons appear to be breaching this code of conduct already: Kojo Twum Boafo, a member of the NDC communication team, was heard publicly calling Nana Akomea of the NPP, a homosexual, while Dr . Tony Aidoo , head of government Policy Monitoring and Evaluation division, was heard criticizing NPP members for expressing condolence to the departed president.
He used a phrase that has a rather uncomfortable effect; he said the NPP has an erotic attraction to the corpse of the dead president.
'If you engage in politics of insult, you only get short term advantage then you lose out. Voters will punish insulting politicians, you mark my words, especially in areas where there are youthful intellectuals,' predicts Ben Ephson.
'I think we have seen enough during the funeral that if we should go back doing those same things, I think we shall be ashamed of ourselves,' Alhaji Ramadan admonishes.
He continues, 'At least, the old way of doing things is not dignifying and we need to dignify our politics so that decent people can really get involved.'
In Kwesi Jonah's view, the NDC needs to take a critical look at the mourning period and study the behavior of its Funeral Planning Committee, headed by Kofi Totobi Quakyi, during the mourning period that made it so easy for so many people to rally round the whole event.
He advises that the NDC can capitalize on that behavior to wreak havoc on its opponents.
According to the political scientist, the NDC can derive some more capital by continuing to emphasize the good things that people said about President Mills during the funeral
He warns that if the NDC party supporters go back to the status quo of verbal attacks on opponents, it will erode whatever gains they might get from the death of President Mills.
If the NDC adopts this strategy, it could affect the chances of its biggest opponent, the NPP.
Essentially, he meant that, 'Even for the NPP, a big problem has been created for their campaign. Normally, in the African culture, when somebody dies, you don't say anything bad about him.
The NPP has been bashing President Mills for so long, now the man is dead. Are they going to continue to criticize him and still maintain their credibility in the eyes of the people?'
To counter the possible antics of the NDC as the year races towards the general elections, the NPP will also need serious re-strategizing, Mr Jonah advices.
According to him, the NPP will have to do a phased transition from Mills to John Mahama and by extension the entire NDC government machinery.
The transition should not be sharp, he warns, 'otherwise the desired effect would not be achieved'.
'All the criticisms that they leveled against President Mills in the past, they would have to take time to explain to the people of Ghana that whatever it is that went wrong under the [NDC] regime, it was not just one person at the head, but an entire team.'
According to him, this strategy will gradually get the people to understand that John Mahama cannot absolve himself from the Mills-led government.
'Soon after the funeral, you need to help your listeners to understand why overnight, you have changed from Mills to John Mahama.
All along, your criticisms have been on the person who is dead, so that is why you need to gradually transfer your political attacks from Atta Mills to John Mahama.
If you do it so abruptly, you will have a problem,' he tutored.
According to Sylvester Tetteh, the NPP will not necessarily change its game plan. 'We are still sticking to the issues of economics, the issues of bread on your table, issue of your child going to school; those issues are still relevant,' he says.
By Raphael Adeniran & Jamila Akweley Okertchiri
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