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20.04.2007 Politics

2008 elections will be too close to call

By Public Agenda
2008 elections will be too close to call

As the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) square up for the 2008 general elections, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has forecast that the outcome of the elections will be too close to call.

According to the EIU, there had been fears that the NDC might suffer further rancorous disagreements, as they did in the 2005 congress, when the former President Jerry Rawlings, sought to impose his will on disagreeing delegates.

But the NDC remained united, partly because the main dissenting voices have left the party.

It says though the NPP has yet to nominate its presidential candidate, the as many as 14 members of the government declaring their interest to contest the presidency could register in the minds of the electorate as an undignified scramble for power.

The EIU warns that attempts by President Kufuor to thin down the number of candidates may backfire, as those whom he does not apparently recognise as meeting his leadership criteria may begin openly to criticise the government.

Such cracks in the NPP would be in addition to an increasingly perceptible split between the President and several former ministers who were removed from the government in a reshuffle in April 2006.

The EIU forecasts that when the chips are down and votes are counted, it expects the 2008 vote to be reasonably close.

In its view, the NDC's popularity remains strong, particularly in the North, and it will seek to extend this voting base by appealing to the poor, whom it believes to be excluded by NPP policies, with social welfare schemes.

The NPP, on the other hand, has declared that it wants to make the elections a direct comparison between the NDC's record in government in 1992-2000 and its own record in 2008, focusing particularly on economic and business management.

"The vote may indeed be so close as to end in numerous challenges to the result by the losing party, putting significant pressure on the still inexperienced electoral authorities", says the EID.

The report further notes that the apparent unity within the NDC is a relatively new development and shows an awareness of public perceptions of the party that may presage a more media savvy campaign.

However, it is unclear if the 62-year-old Prof. Mills will be able to unseat the NPP.

In particular, Prof. Mills does not represent the break with the past and the fresh start for the NDC that many argue is needed to increase the party's appeal outside its traditional core of voters.

The EID asserts that Prof. is tainted with links to figures within the previous Provisional National Defence Council government that has been accused of human rights abuses, and served as vice-president under the 1996-2000 NDC government whose record towards the end of its period in power was clouded by allegations of economic mismanagement and outstanding allegations of corruption.

Prof Mills' record is further blotted by two previous presidential election defeats in 2000 and 2004. Such criticisms, as well as doubts surrounding his health were used against him during the nomination process and are bound to be raised during the election campaign.

According to the report, between now and 2008, President John Agyekum Kufuor and his New Patriotic Party (NPP) government will continue to intensify their focus on the need to deliver an improvement in the standard of living of ordinary Ghanaians and will also focus on carrying out donor-supported economic reforms.

It points out that the NPP's first term in office failed to noticeably improve the standard of living and as the country celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence, pressure will build on the government to resolve the ongoing power shortages and inadequate infrastructure from which the country suffers.

This however, has raised concerns that with increasing political considerations ahead of the December 2008 elections, spending will be on high-profile prestige projects or simply on public sector wage increases that, although highly visible and securing a limited "goodwill" vote, have questionable long term benefits.

In a bid to counter this, the NDC will continue to seek to discredit the NPP on as many issues as possible, says the report.

In particular, the NDC will seek to build on the popular discontent created by the rises in fuel prices that followed the removal of government subsidies in 2005 and public-sector strikes in 2006.

"The NDC will also try to ensure that controversy does not die away over an increasing number of corruption allegations and scandals that have beset the government and that are contributing to a public perception that the NPP is perhaps taking its position for granted", the EIU forecasts.

It notes that the effectiveness of NDC's strategy was put in doubt by a recent March by-election in an NDC target area, in which, despite the fact that the incumbent NPP member of Parliament was forced to resign after being arrested for cocaine trafficking, the vote was comfortably won by the NPP.

"As the NDC seeks to discredit the NPP, the political atmosphere, already characterised by bickering and parliamentary boycotts, is likely to become yet more bellicose.”

The EIU predicts that a particular area of contention will be recent legislation allowing Ghanaians not living in the country to vote in the elections. The NDC believes that if successfully implemented, the majority of these diaspora voters will opt for the more business-friendly policies of the NPP.

However, the NDC is also wary of the potential administrative problems in identifying and registering overseas voters, and believes that the legislation could therefore be used as an opportunity for the ruling NPP to manipulate the vote. As a result, the NDC has indicated in the strongest possible terms that it would oppose any attempt by the government to implement the law in 2008.