The Curse of the Simple Majority: Potential Runoff in Ghana's 2024 Elections

By Prince Amoako Baah
Opinion The Curse of the Simple Majority: Potential Runoff in Ghana's 2024 Elections
MAR 22, 2024 LISTEN

As Ghana gears up for the 2024 general elections, as always there appears to be a specter of uncertainty regarding the outcome. The country's electoral history, marked by a simple majority voting system, has seen two runoff elections since 1992, occurring in 2000 and 2008. Despite this historical rarity, several contemporary factors suggest that Ghana may be poised for another runoff in its electoral history.

Driven by a perfect storm of factors such as emigration, voter apathy, and a proliferation of candidates, Ghana's electoral landscape could face significant challenges in achieving the required 50% +1 majority. Despite voter registrations last year and another scheduled for this year, the road ahead remains uncertain. This article explores the possibility of a runoff election and emphasizes the need for proactive measures to uphold Ghana's democratic integrity.

Voter Apathy: A Threat to Democracy
Voter apathy is a significant concern looming over Ghana's upcoming election. Public sentiment suggests that many citizens are disinterested in elections due to the perception of little or no improvements in their lives under successive administrations. This lack of enthusiasm poses a threat to Ghana's democratic process.

In Ghana voter apathy mainly manifest as "roll-offs," where individuals vote in some races, such as the parliamentary race, but skip the other. This phenomenon, closely linked to "skirt and blouse" voting, where voters support different parties in the presidential and parliamentary races, further complicates the electoral landscape. In fact, Ghana recently witnessed its first hung parliament, attributed largely to the "skirt and blouse" phenomenon. Such apathy poses a significant challenge to achieving the coveted 50% +1 majority, thereby intensifying the possibility of a runoff election.

Voter Turnout: A Critical Concern
In recent years, Ghana has experienced a significant emigration of its citizens in pursuit of better economic opportunities abroad. While traditionally, Ghanaians sought these opportunities in Europe and America, there has been a notable shift towards destinations like the Gulf region, where unskilled job opportunities are abundant. According to the Ghana Statistical Service's 2021 thematic report on migration, a staggering 293,416 citizens left the country, primarily driven by economic motivations. This trend is particularly prominent among young adults of voting age, with the majority falling within the 20-49 age bracket.

The impact of emigration on Ghana's electoral landscape cannot be ignored. In the 2020 election, despite the compilation of a new voter roll, voter turnout stood at 79%. This means that approximately 3.5 million registered voters did not participate in the election, a figure that could significantly influence the outcome of the election and emigration is likely among the contributing factors.

There is therefore a legitimate concern that emigration could pose a threat to voter turnout in the upcoming election, with a significant portion of Ghanaians seeking opportunities abroad, potentially undermining the democratic process.

The Proliferation of Candidates
Adding to the complexity is the proliferation of candidates vying for the Presidency. In the 2020 election, for example, there were a record-breaking 12 candidates on the ballot paper, nearly twice the number compared to 2016. This proliferation dilutes the vote share, raising the likelihood of a runoff scenario.

Furthermore, the emergence of breakout factions and independent contenders further fragments the political landscape, making it increasingly challenging for any single party to secure a decisive majority.

Another noteworthy mention is the increasing number of rejected ballots, as observed in the 2020 elections. The number of rejected ballots doubled compared to 2016, underscoring the need for the Electoral Commission (EC) to continue to improve the design of the ballot paper and intensify voter education efforts. These measures are crucial in minimizing such occurrences in the future and enhancing the likelihood of a higher number of valid votes cast. This, in turn, can significantly contribute to meeting the voting requirement of a simple majority.

In spite of the above listed challenges, there is a glimmer of hope rising from the new voter registrations. With voter registration conducted last year and another scheduled for this year, there is optimism that an influx of new voters could help counterbalance the deficit created by the various factors. For instance, in 2023, the Electoral Commission (EC) registered some 900,000 new voters out of a projected 1.3 million. This year, the numbers could potentially increase, as typically seen during general election years. The upcoming voter registration exercise presents an opportunity to further bolster voter participation and engagement.

In conclusion, Ghana stands on the threshold of another electoral cycle and the potential for a runoff election looms large, this possibility also carries significant financial implications as conducting elections is a costly endeavor, and a runoff would further strain public coffers already burdened by economic challenges. While new voter registrations offer a ray of hope, they alone may not suffice to navigate the challenges ahead. Proactive measures are imperative to safeguard the integrity of this year’s elections.

The writer’s concerns may be perceived as speculative, but they serve as a reminder of the importance of action in preserving Ghana's democracy and the public purse.

Source: EC, Ghana Statistical Service and CitiNews