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14.11.2008 Elections

On the road with Nana Akufo-Addo

By The Statesman

From the onset it is an organised road trip with a neatly coordinated vehicle convoy and an unmerciful itinerary. You immediately begin to wonder how the 64-year-old candidate would handle such an arduous schedule. 

But you are rest assured when a look of enthusiasm and sheer vigor are what confront you as you shake his hand at breakfast to the extent that you question whether you can keep up.

Nearly 16 hours later, one of us is dragging his feet to his car, and the other is still on a nearly two-storey stage punching the air with his fist to the acclamation of a sea - I mean a SEA - of human admirers.

That sea was located at Koforidua's Jackson Park. It is safe to say that I have never seen that many people gathered at one spot in my life besides a sporting event at a stadium. My spot count estimated the crowd at between 80,000 to 100,000.

I turned to Nana and asked "what is this?' He replied jokingly 'you might as well get used to it,' which is actually my line when he protests against me calling him 'Mr. President' prematurely.

Before Koforidua, however, the day had been characterised by developments I found to be interesting, but which turned out to be normal occurrences.

 The convoy, which was hard to keep up with especially if you are used to driving on American freeways, would speed on for miles and then stop suddenly.

You look ahead at what is going on, and Nana is on a make-shift stage addressing an exuberant crowd. You ask the locals what town is this, they tell you, you check the itinerary, and that town is nowhere on it.

 You start to scratch your head, then you realise what is happening.

Grassroots enthusiasts of the New Patriotic Party have their own information on Nana"s schedule and consequent route.

Thus they organise what I term a friendly ambush for the candidate knowing Nana's love for the people would never let him drive past them. And these are no small gatherings.

 In some cases, they had to comprise at least 90% of the town around which I can trot five laps on a bad day - don't laugh. In the end, a planned five-stop campaign day ends up having five additional stops.

If you are thinking 'home court advantage,' I would easily grant you that argument.

But if that was the case, then why are opponents Atta Mills and Paa Kwesi Nduom not attracting similar fervour in Central and Western regions respectively?

Rather, reports from all neutral observers are in agreement that Nana Akufo-Addo draws much larger crowds at campaign rallies than Atta Mills in Central Region and Paa Nduom in Western Region. In fact, one paper characterized the reception Nana received at Rawlings' stronghold Volta Region as 'historic.'

With Nana drawing Obama-like crowds and his opponents drawing McCain-like crowds, the next thing to guard against is complacency. If crowds won elections, Kobe Bryant would be the next Chinese Premier. (Oh, they don't elect the Chinese Premier; 'my bad.')

That is why Nana's campaign team was on point to harp on the importance of voting. Every single speaker at these rallies reminded members of the audience to make sure that they voted on December 7th to guarantee a 'one-touch' victory, which is code name for a non-runoff victory.

The NPP has good reasons to shoot for 'one-touch.' Information from credible sources indicates that fears of electoral disturbances are not unfounded.

First off, some opposing parties privately concede that the NPP has done a good enough job, and enjoy a healthy enough popularity to win the elections. But they fear what prospects their party faces if they find themselves in continued opposition.

Talk of mass abandonment and the potential for switching of party affiliation has them eyeing a possible power-sharing scenario. And the only way to accomplish that is to incite violence so that international mediators would consider that option to alleviate civil strife.

Thus, NPP's goal is not only to win the election, but to blow out the opposition to leave no doubt.

So far, that blowout is happening at the campaign rallies. Former President Rawlings is pulling decent crowds, but he is not the one running on his party's ticket, which underscores the notion that a vote for a non-factor Atta Mills is indeed a vote to return Rawlings to the new Flagstaff House, the new seat of our government.

That said, if the crowd disparity at these campaign rallies translates into disparity in votes, 'one-touch' may be a realistic NPP goal after all.