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11.11.2004 Feature Article

Election 2004-Some observations

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It is usually said that opposition parties do not win elections, but rather it is incumbent governments that lose them. In other words, no matter how vocal or effective an opposition party may appear to the electorate, the ruling government must be hopelessly weak, uncharismatic or plain incompetent for the opposition to get a chance to unseat it. The tired, weak John Major government of pre-1997 in Britain and the recent US elections are stark pointers to this observation.

It cannot be disputed that one of the reasons that Ghana's NDC government lost the 2000 elections was simply because the people were tired of them, perceiving them to have ruled too long, especially if viewed from the (P)NDC prism. Despite the NDC government's plea for continuity, they gave them the boot and opted for the Positive Change offered by the NPP.

Whether you like Rawlings or not, one undeniable fact is that he is popular among a section of the Ghanaian populace and derives a strong personal following in the country. He seems to excite certain people to certain heights of giddiness, in spite of his many faults. It is hard to argue that Rawlings would have lost power in 2000 if he were eligible to stand for a third term. In his place, John Mills was, and continues to be, a pale shadow of his former boss. He cannot seem to establish himself as his own man in the mind of the general populace. This appears to have been made worse by the fact that in this current campaign Rawlings has clearly taken the NDC centre stage, electrifying his followers and eclipsing the poor Ekumfi professor. One may be forgiven for thinking JJ is the NDC presidential candidate. He has simply stolen the show from Mills the candidate.

It makes the NDC smack of desperation when they have to pluck Rawlings from out of retirement to breathe fire into their campaign. Bill Clinton wisely saw the damage he could do to John Kerry by not being too visible during the latter's campaign. Party managers realised that Bill's charm and popularity would bring out in sharp contrast, Kerry's stiffness, which rendered him about as charismatic as a piece of cardboard. It is submitted Kerry would have fared worse had Clinton been on the stump all throughout the campaign. Poor John Major eventually had to start barking at Lady Thatcher to lay off when she started muscling in on his act and making his inadequacy rather obvious after he took over from her as British Prime Minister in 1991. A political party can only have one leader at a time. Granted that Kuffour is not an electrifying orator, it does not appear he has anything to fear from Mills in that department. Plus he has the advantage of the incumbency, which the NDC used to its full advantage in 1992 and 1996.

It may be argued that much as the current NPP government has made its mistakes since it took power, perhaps it has not really reached the nadir that would make people despair of them and vote for the former government turned opposition. The NPP's strong claim is that it inherited a mess which it is trying to turn around, and that one term is not enough to make a significant impact. Some people would indeed argue that the court cases that ended in the jailing of Kwame Peprah, Selormey and Co were in fact political witch-hunts aimed at discrediting the NDC. But to the wider section of the electorate, these men were hardly saints, and there is the general belief that these economic crimes were indeed committed by these men and that they deserved their sentences. The sleaze/corruption/arrogance tag that people associated with the NDC is unlikely to go away for a while. And in politics, impressions and perceptions do matter a lot, maybe even more than the facts themselves.

Further, the NDC is widely perceived as a mere extension of the PNDC, as previously noted. And let us face it, the PNDC era was not exactly Ghana at its finest hour. The recent NRC hearings were a painful reminder of some of the worst excesses and human rights abuses that Ghana has experienced. Even if one accepts, as some argue, that the whole reconciliation exercise was a sham aimed at discrediting the NDC, this does not change the cold hard realities of the 1980s and early 1990s in the aftermath of Rawlings' revolutionary zeal.

In my opinion, for the NDC to win the impending elections would require the NPP government to have been deeply unpopular across the country over the past four years. The NDC, I believe, would have to go through a fundamental change of direction and probably rid itself of a whole lot of tags and their political dinosaurs in order to have a realistic chance of seizing the political crown. It has not done this so far, and the same tired recycled faces from the NDC government of yesteryear keep popping, up reminding the people why they were thrown out of office in the first place. The NDC needs a clean break from its past, by nurturing new political talent to take over and present a credible face to the electorate.

People do insist that the NPP has not been able to deliver its promised Positive Change over the past four years and have failed the people. Admittedly, to a certain extent there may be some merit in that argument. The ordinary man is yet to feel the NPP's positive change in his pocket. Affordable healthcare, education and housing still seem to be beyond the reach of many. However, this situation in itself does not necessarily mean the NDC will win the election, because I believe that the disappointment and frustration of the people is with all politicians as a breed and their promise-and-fail gimmicks. And this disaffection with politicians is not limited to Ghana. In Britain, for example, the opposition Conservative Party is finding it hard to make a dent in the electorate's mind in spite of the disaffection with the Labour government.

I believe that the voters will go for what they perceive to be the lesser of two evils. It may arguably result in the NPP's majority being reduced, but I do not see the electorate rushing to endorse the NDC as the next government in Ghana, come December 2004. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, © 2004

The author has 34 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: RodneyNkrumahBoateng

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