In spite of consistent denials by President Kufuor that he is backing one of the 17 presidential aspirants of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the matter has surged to the fore just two days to the hour of decision.
Four of the contestants whom the Daily Graphic spoke to yesterday revisited the issue. The Northern Sector Campaign Manager of Vice-President Aliu Mahama, George Ayisi-Boateng, waded deep into it, claiming that delegates were under “intimidation and machination by officialdom to vote for the “President's candidate”.
While Dr Kwame Addo-Kufuor described the rumours as untrue, Mr Hackman Owusu-Agyeman would not be drawn into the debate.
However, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey and Mr Yaw Osafo-Maafo said although the President was backing one of the candidates in the race, the delegates would not yield to any machinations.
Speaking to the Daily Graphic in Kumasi, Mr Ayisi-Boateng said it was a fact that all was not well with the party as it moved closer to congress and that the opposition could easily cash in to cause trouble for the NPP.
“While officialdom moves to support one candidate, the NDC, our main opponent, is also praying that the NPP elects the wrong candidate whom it can easily beat,” he said.
The campaign manager stressed that it was intriguing to find the KMA Chief Executive and her husband selected as delegates from one constituency.
He said the issue was very serious and raised a number of questions about the selection procedure for delegates.
Mr Ayisi-Boateng also touched on the latest report that the President was not going to cast his vote as a delegate and said “this is in order”.
Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, one of the aspirants, was explicit in saying that President Kufuor's support for one of the aspirants had the tendency of weakening the party.
Dismissing any suggestions of a possible break-up in the party as a result of that, he said there could, however, be many other ways in which the President's bias could undermine the party, such as apathy, disillusionment and disaffection among party activists.
“I am worried about it in the sense that it may discourage the activists of the party from working for the party, although they may vote for it,” he told the Daily Graphic.
There is strong suspicion among NPP insiders and political observers that President Kufuor has given his blessing to Mr Alan Kyerematen, one of the aspirants, although the President has dismissed that suspicion.
Last October, the President held a crucial meeting with the aspirants and other party executives, at which he told them that he did not support any of the aspirants.
The meeting was held behind closed doors and attended by NPP national executive members, including the National Chairman, Mr Peter Mac Manu, the General Secretary, Nana Ohene Ntow, and the National Organiser, Lord Commey.
Although there was no official statement regarding what transpired at the meeting, snippets of information the Daily Graphic gathered pointed to the fact that the key issues centred on how the aspirants could carry out their campaigns based on issues and ensure that the ruling government handed over to itself.
The President was said to have denied the rumour of his support for Mr Kyerematen. In spite of that, Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey told the Daily Graphic yesterday that politics was about public perception and that a stronger signal of the President's neutrality and readiness to work with anyone who won the flagbearership would be served if he (President) did not vote at the congress.
“But I think it's a little bit late now because the President has already declared that he has his choice, unless he declares whoever emerges as winner as his choice,” the two-time winning Campaign Manager of President Kufuor in 2000 and 2004 said in a calm demeanour.
Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey likened the situation to the infamous 'Swedru Declaration' when then President Rawlings publicly proclaimed his then vice, Prof John Evans Atta Mills, as his successor for the flagbearership of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), which declaration led to a break-up in the party.
He said although the break-up did not take a huge chunk of votes from the NDC, it nevertheless took away some key workers who could have been essential to the party's electoral machine.
Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey said the Swedru Declaration also affected the public perception of candidate Mills, “so we should be careful that we do not repeat the mistakes that the NDC made”.
According to him, the NPP had a record of choosing the right candidates at congresses and expressed the hope that delegates to Saturday's congress would once again chose the right candidate, “the right candidate being the one around whom the whole party can unite and who has competitive advantage, especially in two critical regions — the Greater Accra and Volta regions”.
Nana Akufo-Addo was confident that the choice of the NPP flag bearer would depend on the delegates to Saturday's congress and not on the dictates of the party leadership or even the President.
He said three key factors — the mass appeal of the candidate, his ability to unify the party and a candidate who can push the country into a middle income status — would be the major determinants at the congress.
He said although the perception that the President was supporting a particular candidate had become a major issue within the party, he was not worried about it because he believed he possessed the competence and ability that the delegates were looking for.
On the perception that President Kufuor was supporting Mr Kyerematen, he explained that for many people it was a reality within the party.
"It is a decision that the President has made. I believe that despite that the decision on Saturday will depend on merit," he assured his supporters.
He said the key matter delegates would consider before voting would be who could unite the party and lead it to victory, come December 7, 2008.
He noted that he was in a good relationship with all the aspirants and that their quality, substance and calibre made him confident that the NPP, as a mass political party, had a future.
Mr Yaw Osafo-Maafo, another aspirant, asserted that the delegates attending the congress would not be influenced by money.
He said they would maintain the character of the party by voting for a candidate who had a mass appeal beyond the NPP, somebody who could push for a national accelerated growth and win power for the party in Election 2008.
Giving a run-down of his campaign tour of the country in a telephone interview, Mr Osafo-Maafo said, “I have an appeal beyond the NPP.
My proven track record is a clear manifestation and I am a symbol of unity. On Saturday, I will win the election.”
Dr Kwame Addo-Kufuor, also an aspirant, however, denied the rumour that the President had thrown his support behind Mr Kyerematen.
He said when he heard of the rumour, he went personally to the President and asked him about it but the President denied it.
He said knowing who President Kufuor was, he believed him when he said it was not true that he was supporting Mr Kyerematen.
Dr Addo-Kufuor said he had also done his investigations on the quiet but had no evidence to prove that the President was supporting one aspirant.
He, therefore, appealed to the delegates to discard that notion and consider the aspirant who had a good track record and a string of achievements in order to make a meaningful choice for the party.
He also urged them to also look for the one who was experienced enough and could be easily marketed in every nook and cranny of the country.
Dr Addo-Kufuor described himself as the man with all those qualities and appealed to the delegates to vote for him to lead the party to victory.
Mr Hackman Owusu-Agyeman would not be drawn into the debate on whether or not the President was supporting a candidate but underscored the need for a result-oriented, hands-on practical President who could boldly implement agreed programmes and build on the socio-economic foundations so far laid.
He said that was what was important and that whoever emerged winner must be supported by all the aspirants to rally around the flag of the NPP to win and maintain power.
“We shall see to it that the party never splits.
The experience of 1979 is too painful. If we had stayed together and not split and the PFP won the election, the history of this nation would have been different.
Story by Graphic Reporters