Ghana's 2008 Presidential and Parliamentary elections were the most competitive in the country's history. Sixteen years had elapsed since the return to constitutional order and the main contestants, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) were squaring off again. The NDC had won the first two four year terms and the incumbent NPP, the last two.
NDC NPP rivalry was at its height. The stakes were high. This is the context in which the Convention People's Party (CPP) launched its own electoral bid. It was a complex environment to enter from the start. The CPP had long been written off and its last Presidential candidate, George Aggudey, was often the subject of public ridicule. It was difficult to take the party seriously.
The year 2008 saw the revival of the CPP. Throughout the year, the CPP competed effectively against the two bigger parties. There was as much media coverage for the CPP as there was for the NPP and NDC. The Presidential Campaign succeeded in presenting the CPP as a serious contender. “Yeresesamu” caught on and “Edwumawura” presented a picture of hard work and job creation, consistent with the theme of “work and happiness”. The CPP set out to present itself as the agent for change; a positioning that was necessary, but in the end it was hard to retain as an exclusive CPP preserve.
Right from the beginning, the CPP set the tone for the 2008 elections when the Presidential candidate indicated that he was going to run a campaign of ideas, devoid of insults and acrimony. He wasn't going to play “the blame game” as he called it. Soon, even the major contestants were laying claim to running a campaign of ideas. Many young people joined the party in response to the message of this new CPP and its candidate, Papa Kwesi Nduom.
At the centre of his message was the welfare of the Ghanaian. It was a direct message that resonated with many Ghanaians. It was different. The CPP national rally at Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra was the largest rally ever to be held in recent years by the CPP. Newspaper headlines reflected the growing influence of the CPP, when after a long period of referring to the “two main parties”, the media was now referring to “three main parties”.
The CPP was ranked up there with the NPP and NDC, leaving the nearest competitor, the PNC, far behind. It was no longer conceived by many as a straight battle between the NDC and the NPP. The cover page of the November 2008 edition of the influential news magazine The Africa Report,' read that “Election 2008 – The Big Three”.
With a shoestring budget, the CPP had succeeded in giving the impression that it was one of the “big boys”, despite its limited outdoor visibility and advertising. It succeeded, in spite of the party's many weaknesses, in playing on its strengths. In this respect, the campaign was a success.
Disunity, indiscipline and the absence of strong leadership;
Throughout the year, the response of some national executive officers to the campaign was rather lukewarm. Others simply worked against the Presidential candidate. Although the CPP's message was persuasive, it suffered from inconsistency because of the contradictory messages that sometimes emanated from some “prominent” members, and some members of the party's national executive. This undermined the campaign effort and presented the voter with a picture of a disunited party.
The party was also perceived of lacking discipline and cohesion, discouraging those who were willing to offer financial support from doing so. When a prominent member of the party, who also happened to be the Deputy Speaker of Ghana's parliament, expressed support for the NPP Presidential candidate rather than his own party's candidate, many members of the party expected a swift and decisive action. That did not happen.
When the National Youth Organizer of the party launched a verbal attack on radio against the party's Presidential candidate two weeks to the election, it became absolutely clear that there was a deliberate effort to sabotage his electoral chances. Again, no disciplinary action was taken against him. Too many acts of indiscipline were condoned. The CPP is probably the only party where “leading members” are free to work against the party.
It seems that the origins of the discord within the party leadership can be traced to the presidential primaries. Those elections created a CPP National Executive made up of feuding factions because representatives of competing presidential candidates suddenly found themselves working with the winner and unable to bury their differences.
The lack of support for the winning candidate from his nearest competitor, Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa did the campaign a great harm. Many had expected to see him on the campaign stage lending his support to the effort.
Looking back, it seems that the Council of Elders and other well meaning members of the party could have made a special effort to solve this problem but chose not to. As they say, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Many prominent party supporters declined to actively participate in campaign and party activities with the presidential candidate. Yet they accused him of running a one man show.
The CPP primaries and the battles that preceded it haunted the party throughout the year. For a party whose national leaders are quick to proclaim that -”the party is supreme”, it seems strange that national executives should feel comfortable opposing the choice of the people which was made at the party's congress in December 2007. With the elections of the flag bearer over, they were expected to rally behind the final winner.
The opponent was the NPP; not the party's presidential candidate. Yet, their opposition to Nduom was fierce and difficult to understand, coming from party stalwarts such as Mr. F.A. Jantuah. He accused the presidential candidate of not being a “true CPP” and being the wrong messenger (not Nkrumahist enough) for the party. So who really is an Nkrumahist? Or better still, what does the CPP stand for? What is the mission of the CPP?
On many occasions throughout the campaign, I struggled to answer this question. Here was a party with prominent personalities and leading journalists proclaiming to be part of it, but choosing to attack the democratically elected candidate, or to support its political opponents. It fueled the perception that this was not a party to be taken seriously.
Challenges – Money
The lack of adequate financial resources is second only to indiscipline in the matter of how the party fared at the polls. Some national executive officers are simply satisfied to point out that the presidential candidate should be blamed because during the primaries he had made a promise to avoid a “poor man's” campaign in 2008. It's difficult to see how this helps, especially when their actions inspired little confidence in the party.
It's actually amazing how much was achieved with so little money at the campaign's disposal; little as in comparison to what our opponents spent.
The CPP campaign was largely funded by the Presidential Candidate. This was part of the problem. If the party had been more focused and shown more initiative and less division, it might have succeeded in attracting a lot more money. Too many events and activities were left to the Presidential Candidate to fund.
The party never had enough T-shirts to give out to the crowds, even though it was constantly giving out T-shirts to its people. At the very end when the time came to move its people to the voting centers, the campaign had very little resources left. The campaign ran out of steam when it mattered most. CPP “followers” were easily poached by the more and well resourced competitors.
It seems to me that one thing the leadership could have done to raise money was to simply ensure the payment of dues by registered members and the imposition of a special levy on members who could afford it. The information on membership was available. List of newly registered members were constantly being updated.
There are certainly more people out there with party cards than turned out to vote for the CPP. The CPP has many more admirers than the number of votes gained. The party simply didn't have the resources to mobilize these people to vote in its favor. It was not considered a big enough player.
The people did not want to “waste” their vote as they saw it. That's the one perception that plagued us throughout the year. Try as we did, it didn't go away. Much of this was also because the parliamentary effort had been limited and the choice of many of the candidates left a lot to be desired.
Some people argue that by not charging for the membership cards, the CPP cheapened the cards. That's a simplistic conclusion. After all, not everyone in the community came on board even though it was free. This was an important exercise that provided the party with an opportunity that it was not able to fully exploit.
In the final analysis, the result of the poll was disappointing because the campaign had been so successful in generating renewed interest in the party, that it would make its mark in the 2008 elections. Bottom line: Money makes the world go round
Challenges – structures on the ground
The presidential campaign was a vibrant and active one, but it was doomed without a vibrant parliamentary campaign. Rather than find the resources and focus on this campaign in order to complement the activities of the presidential campaign, the party leadership stood idly by and cried foul. Money was expected to come from somewhere and make things happen.
Often, it came from the candidate who provided every region with bicycles, motorcycles and vehicles. He distributed flags, T-shirts and other paraphernalia. A number of party offices were opened in different parts of the country.
But it simply was not enough. On-going activities to ensure successful political canvassing at the grassroots level were limited. The National Executive of the party seemed not to have any program of their own and were not seen on the field, where the Presidential Candidate spent most of his time.
Those who describe the 2008 campaign as a failure simply by taking into account the performance at the poll, are not seeing the big picture. Seen in the right perspective, we now have something to build upon – a revitalized brand, a database of interested people who queued for membership cards, national visibility, goodwill and an admired standard bearer.
But without party discipline and good leadership, it is hard to see how the CPP can make any headway. But perhaps it doesn't want to make any headway. Could it be that for many national executive officers it really isn't about winning elections? Could it be just a form of employment for some; influence to be peddled every four years?
Is this merely “stomach” politics?
Someone needs to engage the universal CPP and help it to define its mission, purpose and principles. The party as it stands appears to have no principles. People attack others not for violations of party principles but to benefit themselves.
Whatever the case, what is needed is a bold re-invention of the party. New leaders should justify their positions each year through annual elections for top party posts. There is nothing to fear. Good leaders will be re-elected and the CPP must demand party loyalty from its leaders.
The party should also re-think its attitude towards the position of Presidential Candidate. It seems to me that the Presidential Candidate should be the de-facto LEADER OF THE PARTY.
All in all, the CPP needs to redefine its mission and vision, and someone needs to take charge. To attain power, the work required will be hard and unglamorous. It will require the building of a disciplined organization. But most of all it will require people who care more about the party than they care about themselves. Where is the CPP going to find these people?
Many otherwise loyal CPP members are confused and conflicted about what the CPP stands for today. What do CPP members have in common besides a nostalgic and sometimes almost irrational obsession with Ghana's glorious past? Politics is about the future. People care more about what you want to do for them than what you did for them in the past.
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."
Reproduction is authorised provided the author's permission is granted.