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31.10.2008 Political

A democratic lottery

By
A democratic lottery
OCT 31, 2008 POLITICAL

In a “normal” country, a party's position on a ballot paper means nothing to anyone. Even those who earn a living by interpreting the meaning of numbers do not often care a hoot about whether a party is number one or number eight on the ballot sheet. Ours, unfortunately, is not a “normal” country.

About fifty percent of our people can neither read nor write. That explains why a political party's position on the ballot paper is such a big deal. It's so important that a day before the parties were due to draw lots to decide the order of their vertical placement on the ballot sheets, the issue was being discussed on almost all the radio stations in the national capital. Party officials were busy predicting and analysing how certain positions would favour them. The CPP's Kosi Dede, for example, said he would like his party to be fifth for the simple reason that raising the five fingers on one hand to indicate the party's position on the ballot will make for easy recall.

As it turned out, the CPP drew for the 6th position. And now, we hear they are going to build a message around 6th March – Independence Day. Apparently, it's a good omen that the party which led us to independence on 6th March occupies the 6th position on the ballot paper. I still can't wrap my head around how this makes it easier for my father's grandmother to remember to vote for the CPP. But politicians are never short of grand schemes and ideas so we will see how this works out for them.

The ruling NPP was clearly the winner when the lots were drawn. Selling their position as the number one party on the ballot paper will be very easy. They are already singing “Go, go high” so they are going to be telling their supporters to go to the very top of the ballot sheet – that's where the elephant will be. We will also be hearing a lot of “Esoro ho” – or “up there” – chants as the election day draws near. In 2000, John Kufuor was bottom of the pile on the ballot sheet and the campaign messages said “Asie ho” – “down there”. It worked perfectly for him and he won. This time around, Nana Akufo-Addo is at the top. We shall see whether “Esoro ho” will work as well for him as “Asie ho” did for Kufuor.

I have been caught up in the predictions game somewhat, and I can't help but think that maybe – just maybe – the gods are saying that the elephant came to power through the bottom and it will be kicked out of power through the top. My gods are often not sober enough so you can't depend on their word.

The People's National Convention (PNC) – the other Nkrumahist party in the race – drew for the second spot and for them it's back to the past. In previous elections, their slogan was “Two-sure, two direct”. I still don't understand why they like saying “two sure” but the PNC leaders feel that being second on the ballot is a clear indication that luck is on their side this time. They might have been doing something good that's why the gods want them to continue shouting “Two sure – two direct”. This slogan won just about 1.9 percent of the votes for them in the last presidential elections. Perhaps, if they scream “two-sure, two direct” loud enough and manage to remove that dot between the one and the nine, they will be very lucky indeed. Unfortunately, if you ask me, Edward Mahama has no business being on the ballot paper. He's wasting his money and our time – not to mention space on the ballot sheet. If he wins more than five percent of the votes in December, I swear, I will offer to carry pan latrines in Labadi for one week.

You might have heard NDC supporters shouting “Trinity” to sell their number three position on the ballot paper. They say that this is Atta Mills' third try for the presidency and being on the third spot means that this time around he will win to serve the NDC's third term in parliament. This is the positive spin. But look at the negative spin too. My little gods have told me – in their drunken stupor – that being third on the ballot sheet could signify that Atta Mills is going to be third time unlucky.

I don't have much to say about the positions of the other parties. Even if they come up with the craftiest advertising messages “sell” their positions on the ballot paper, they stand no chance whatsoever of winning the elections. Ward Brew of the DPP is No. 5 and he must be very happy to have made it to the ballot paper this year. In the last election, he showed up very late at the offices of the EC looking scruffy and wearing a pair of 'charlie wote'. He didn't look like a serious candidate then and things haven't changed much now. I doubt if any Ghanaian outside Mr. Ward-Brew's circle of trust (his close friends and associates) will waste their votes on him. So no matter how high he raises his palms to show off his five fingers to indicate his position on the ballot paper, I will bet that Mr. Ward-Brew will not win more than 10,000 votes nationwide. If he finds it so difficult to shave off that uneven beard of his, I don't understand why he thinks winning an election will be an easier endeavour.

The least said about the other candidates, the better. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but the DFP's Ansah Antwi (number 4 on the ballot sheet), Kwabena Adjei of the Reformed Patriotic Democrats (number 7) and the independent candidate, Kwesi Amoafo-Yeboah (number 8) will never win this election even if their family members and friends were the only eligible voters.

So now, the question is: does a candidate's position on the ballot really matter?

I don't think so. In 2000 Dan Lartey was at the top of the ballot sheet. That didn't win him the election. John Kufuor was last on the sheet and the conventional wisdom is that this helped him win the election. I disagree. In 2000, there was an overwhelming clamour for change. So deep-seated was the desire for a new regime that even if Kufuor had been somewhere in the middle (and not 'asie ho'), I'm sure he would have won all the same. But remember, his victory didn't come easy. In 2004, George 'Comfort' Aggudey, was 'asie ho' but he won a mere one percent of the total votes cast even though he kept screaming 'asie ho' at the least opportunity. Still in 2004, Edward Mahama was at the top but he could only manage a mere 1.9 percent. Kufuor and Mills – who were second and third respectively on the ballot sheet – polled the most votes that year.

In essence, therefore, our politicians and the Electoral Commission – not to mention the media – have made a big deal of something that should not even be an issue at all. Yes, we have an illiterate population. But most of them have made up their minds already and they don't give a damn whether the elephant is at the top or bottom of the ballot sheet. Neither do they care whether the umbrella (or the cockerel) is number six or number three. They may be illiterate but they are not stupid and the party symbols will help most of them cast their votes just fine. So, I look forward to the day when the Electoral Commission will simply list the political parties in alphabetical order on the ballot sheet. No need for the lottery and the circus that comes with it!

Credit: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

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