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20.08.2015 Feature Article

The Concept Of Programmatic Parties, Relevance Of The Concept In The Ghanaian Context

.... General Analysis On The Arguments Against And In Support Of The Programmatic Nature Of Political Parties In Ghana.(Case Of The NPP And NDC)
The Concept Of Programmatic Parties, Relevance Of The Concept In The Ghanaian Context
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This article analyses the concept of programmatic parties. It seeks to illuminate the comprehensive analyses of programmaticity as far as political parties are concerned in liberal democracies. I have stated conspicuously the various dimensions that underpin the general idea of what a programmatic party is as championed by several scholars and political scientists. This paper also critically identifies the relevance of the concept of programmatic parties in the Ghanaian context. Preference is given to the New patriotic party (NPP) and National democratic congress (NDC) as they have alternated political power since the inception of the fourth republic.

This concept is relevant as the paper elucidates that, it shows the nature of political parties in Ghana, thus whether they are just political or electoral machines that find their way through to win elections through patron client networks or make broad credible, plausible commitments to the citizenry, engage the populace in issue based politics that provide the citizens with reasons to vote these parties into power. I have identified several critiques that have been raised by several scholars, that the Ghanaian politics is characterized by neopatrimonialism and populist politics thus Ghanaian parties non programmatic. This paper finally argues strongly that Ghanaian political parties are fit to be categorized in the programmatic sense.

KEY WORDS: programmatic party, political party, neopatrimonialism, populist politics democracy, NPP/NDC, Ghana.


Political parties are universally regarded as essential components of democratic regimes and key vehicles in the process of securing political representation, mobilizing voters, organizing government and shaping public policy (see Webb 2005). Also political parties today are often perceived in very negative terms; they are being regarded as weak and thus , do not ensure the democratic deepening of various states .In democratic societies, political parties are therefore indispensable voluntary and informal associations of society, where people share commonly understood values customs and attitudes to their role in politics. They are products of and operate within economic structures, and in a context of interests that are affected by and respond to the accumulation and distribution of goodwill and resources, including the wealth of society (Leiserson 1955).Across several democratic states, studies of electoral competition reveal variations in the capacity of political parties to compete on the basis of clearly articulated issue –based programs.(kitschelt and Smyth 2002).

Democratically political parties are supposed to forge ties with citizens based on clearly articulated issue positions. rational choice theorist endorsing downsian analyses believe that voters have specific preferences regarding redistributive policies and that they select parties that are close to their positions in policy space(Denters 1993).Public policies are more than technocratic decisions, they are about shaping the countries future. Citizens must therefore have a say. Without political parties the intermediary role between citizens and their government’s policy making democracies risk losing legitimacy and meaning. When elections become popular context, citizens cast their votes, without exercising a real choice concerning how they envision the future of their country, thus undermining the entire notion of democracy.

Political parties in many liberal democracies struggle to make the shift from relying on personalities and clientelistic forms to debating and implementing policies and platforms. The programmatic development seems to have taken hold in brazil and south Korea (see Luna 2012).Lindberg (2008), asserts that the core institution of modern liberal democracy whereby the right of the people to self-government can be exercised is competitive and participatory elections. The extent to which elections fulfill that mission is to a significant extent dependent on citizens rationales for how they behave at the pools . if the voters behavior is determined by non-evaluative rationales such as clientelism , then the purpose of self-rule by representative government is defeated. I support this assertion because, there should be broad credible commitments made to the citizenry, issue based politics should be the order of the day, in order to provide mandate for parties to control state resources. This as a results ensue democratic deepening.

This paper focuses on the concept of programmatic parties, that is the general theoretical comprehension of what constitutes a programmatic makes clear the various dimensions and underpinnings that help to erect what programmaticity means as far as political parties are concernend.This article also tries to analyze and bring to light several definitions of programmatic parties by prominent scholars and political scientists. Next we examine the relevance of the concept of programmatic parties in the Ghanaian context, finding out the nature of political parties in Ghana as preference is given to the NDC and the NPP.We then critically analyze the various assertions of several scholars that supports the non- programmatic nature of political parties in Ghana. Finally we shine the spot light on the programmatic nature of political parties in Ghana, clear cut arguments and evidences that liberate Ghanaian political parties from the various critiques of these scholars and thus characterize these political parties in the programmatic sense. We then draw some general conclusions from the study of programmatic parties.

The concept of programmatic parties: a definitional analysis

The international institute for democratic and electoral assistance (IDEA) is an intergovernmental organization with mission to support sustainable democracy worldwide. The objectives of this institution are to support stronger democratic institutions and processes and a more sustainable , effective and legitimacy part of their researches the institution came to note and observe that democracy in several states were weak and thus political parties in such democracies were functioning contrary to the ideals of democracy.programmatization is a complex notion , political parties are not simply programmatic or non-programmatic .several scholars and political scientists have provided explanations and definitions for constitutes a programmatic party.

Luna (2012) provides some underpinnings and dimensions that facilitate the comprehension of programmatic parties. In his definitional analysis, a party is said to be programmatic when it has a well-structured and stable ideological commitments that constitutes the basis for a. the link between its constituencies b. electoral competition among parties c. the policy making process. According to Luna ideally to be classified as programmatic a party needs to behave accordingly in all three arenas.

To provide an in-depth insight a programmatic party undertakes structuring of its programs and also engages in issue based politics which serves as linkages to voters rather than (clientelistic or charismatic), seeks to implement its programs when in office (government), organizes the party in ways that facilitates construction, diffusion, and reproduction of its programmatic platform. Kitschelt (2012), asserts that programmatic parties are considered to have a.a collective policy positions that constitutes a well-structured and stable political programs by which the party is publicly known. b .internal coherence and agreement on a range of policy positions .c. a commitment and the ability to deliver on at least some key programmatic promises when in a position of power. d. a party programs that is the most defining element in how it attracts and engages its members . A true programmatic party would not motivate support using patron client networks, nor make appeals and advocate policies that are critically designed to achieve the interest of just one group. There is an ideal type ( see Luna 2012). Several countries were covered by his case study , only the PT in brazil could be categorized as a fully programmatic party.

Diamond and frank (2001), defines a programmatic party as an organized political party mainly found around election campaigns , have three characteristics ; having a more distinct , consistent and coherent programmatic or ideological agenda, clearly incorporates those ideological or programmatic appeals in its electoral campaigns and its legislation and government agenda. Programmatic party proposes a manifesto, which offers the potential for gains for some groups, but they are free to vote for it or not (Aidoo 2010). According to aidoo, if a party wins, those policies are pursued and members of those groups in question benefit from the policies and those who did not vote for the party also benefits. Based on proper analysis of the explanations and definitions by these scholars I have also come up with a very precise and concise definition for a programmatic party.

I define a programmatic party as a party that has an ideological congruence( set of beliefs that binds all members together), well-structured cardinal plan that embodies their coherent and consistent party programs , engages the citizenry in issue based politics , thus create voter linkages by making broad national credible commitments to the people in order to obtain mandate to ascend the reins of government.

Relevance of the concept of programmatic parties in the Ghanaian context: arguments supporting the non-programmatic nature of political parties in Ghana.

The concept of programmatic parties is relevant in the Ghanaian context to a significant extent, because it gives insight into the nature of political parties that exist in Ghana, that is whether these political parties are just electoral or political machines that maneuver their way through the capturing of political power based on several factors ranging from those that undermine the quality and effectiveness of democracy such as neopatrimonialism , clientelism, populist politics and on the other hand factors that enhance, facilitates and sustains democracy, such as issue based politics , programmaticity, that gives the citizens meaning to cast their ballot in favour of a political party. Also the concept provides a yardstick that helps to measure the extent to which political parties in Ghana are well structured, fit into the various definitions proposed by several scholars, as a matter of fact can be categorized in the programmatic sense. Issues of parties inability to ensure credible or broad national programs and policies are hotly debated in the third world new democracies, particularly Ghana. (Cromwell 2005, Whitfield 2009).

In sub-Saharan Africa, neopatrimonialism has been employed extensively to explain Africa’s internal politics. And as such, its focus exclusively on internal dynamics of African politics serves as the basis for externalist linking neopatrimonialism and Africa’s political trouble just as the dependency theorists have linked Africa’s underdevelopment with dependency syndrome (Aidoo and DeMarco, 2009). Political parties within these countries, of which Ghana is not an exception, according to several scholars are not programmatic but rather find their way through as electoral machines to obtain power through patron client networks and control state resources. neopatrimonialism has been used both as theory and concept by several Scholars (Lindberg, 2003; Gyimah-Boad, 2001; Aidoo and DeMarco2009).

With regard to neopatrimonialism as a theory, scholars usually see it as being responsible for economic policy failures in Africa in the 1980s during which most African states pursued Western designed economic development strategies (e.g. Structural Adjustment Programme) ( see Hayden 1985, Gyimah-Boadi, 2001). As a concept,neopatrimonialism has extensively been conceptualized to cover, the nature of African state including; level of authority, power politics, political legitimacy, elections, corruption, nepotism, paternalism, cronyism, privatization and presidentialism (see brobey 2013).

There has been several scholarly arguments that, Ghanaian political parties are not programmatic and thus neopartimonialism(clientelism, patronage etc) and also populism or populist politics have taken center stage as far as the body politic is concerned. Keefer and World Bank (2006) describe Ghana’s political system as being characterized by “pure neopatrimonialism,’ Booth and Gyimah-Boadi (2005) contend that Ghana is characterized by populist politics, others such as Nugent et al (2009) argue that Ghana’s politics is the big men type.

Populist politics is the attempt to gain political support using paternalistic policies, in the form of income redistribution (Aidoo, 2010; Jockers et al, 2004). Booth et al. (2006) refer to the populist politics as the strength of political incentives in a country to pursue policies that benefit narrow groups in society (clientelist policies) .with the populist politics, the political elite deliberately, design a policy and programme be it economic or social in outlook with the intension to canvas for or mobilize political supports. Usually, such policy, project or programme is tailored to the particular need of the people within a particular geographic coverage. Such policy, project or programme is purposive one and it is normally designed to satisfy ethnic, religious or regional consideration.

In the Ghanaian context, there have been policies pursued by political elites that reflect purely populist politics according to these scholars. For example, rural electrification and Quality Grains policies of former president Rawlings and NDC regimes (electricity power was supplied to areas that did not make economic sense and Ms Cotton’s rice Scandal) (GNA, April, 1996); Capitation Grants; and School Feeding Programme, NYEP as well as rice tariffs policies of President Kufuor and finally, President Mills’ rice project in the SADA policy (Okyere-Darko, 2010). All these policies, to a large extent, though far from exclusion, reflect deliberate attempts by the politicians to tie specific policies to electorates’ votes (Van de Walle, 2007). Booth et al. (2006) note that populist politics has become necessary because vigorous competition for votes in Ghana has not reduced, and this perhaps, has highlighted the attraction of politicians to making clientelist appeals for political support. However, this populist politics has not yielded the desired results within Ghana’s polarized political economy, as implementation of these policies have often been occasioned by populist logic. (see brobbey 2013) .

Whitfield (2009) asserts and reinforces that competitive neo-patrimonial argument by positing that policies pursued by Ghanaian politicians reflect a competitive clientelism. In contrast, Booth et al. (2006) think they are rather populist. Aidoo (2010) argues that when the political parties are out of power they project programmatic policies because there is no way they can afford to push and sustain neo-patrimonialism – after all they have empty pockets when out of power. However, these political parties when in power resort to populist or patronage programmes, because they have the means - after all they control state resources. These are some of the arguments that have been raised by several scholars against the programmatic nature of political parties in Ghana resources.

Contrary to the assertions above, Lindberg and Morrison (2008) argue that recent evidence shows that political parties in Ghana have as programmatic parties and this is demonstrated by the fact that Ghanaians in particular neither vote on ethnic line nor clientelistic basis. Rather, they vote on the basis of evaluation of past performance and that makes new democracies a "mature" one.

Programmatic nature of political parties in Ghana (case of the NPP and the NDC)

This phase of the paper analyses critically the programmatic nature of political parties in Ghana and thus raise a counter reaction to the various assertions made by several scholars and finally conclude that political parties in Ghana can be categorized in the programmatic sense. Preference is given to the NPP and the NDC as they have alternated political power and thus have contributed a lot to the democratic deepening and consolidation of the nation Ghana. For proper comprehension of the programmatic nature of these political parties in Ghana, ordely consideration is given to the various definitions serving as dimensional measures and underpinings that helps to categorize a political party in the programmatic of the various faults that I find with these scholars are that they fail to incoperate the various reseaches by the IDEA concerning programmatic parties as far as their definitional analysis are concerned that will help comprehend the concept in the Ghanaian context.

For proper assessments and analyses on the programmatic nature of political parties in Ghana my definition for programmatic parties is used to measure the programmaticity of these parties since I have incorporated various definitions by various scholars in to my point of view. I define a programmatic part as a party that has an ideological congruence( set of beliefs that binds all members together), well-structured cardinal plan that embodies their coherent and consistent party programs , engages the citizenry in issue based politics , thus create voter linkages by making broad national credible commitments to the people in order to obtain mandate to ascend the reins of government.with this definition, it is then made conspiocuous that Ghanaian political parties are programmatic.

Ghana’s political parties lay claim to traditions, core beliefs, creeds or philosophies (these are known as ideologies.whitfield (2009) asserts that the explanation of the level of competiveness in the 2008 elections was as the results of a de facto two party system and thus the existence of credible oppositions at elections. He also elucidates further that the de facto two party system was as a results of the political traditions of these two political parties. These two political traditions were the Danquah- Busia tradition and Nkrumanist tradition. These two political parties to a larger extent according to whitfield have provided founding mythologies, ideological images and distinct political styles, around which elites gravitate and voters are mobilized. Article 5 of the NDC’s constitution states that ,The Party is a Social Democratic Party that believes in the equality and the egalitarian treatment of all persons of their social,cultural,educational, political, religious and economic relations in a multi-party environment’ (NDC 1992). The new patriotic party (NPP) on the other hand has always espoused an ideology of property-owing democracy. Although the party was formed in 1992, it has consistently held onto this ideology since the days of the UGCC and later national liberation movement and the united party and has followed the articulation of that ideology, especially J.B Danquah and K. A Busia (see ayee 2009).

The NDC and the NPP have produced six manifestos each between 1992 and 2012 .These manifestoes contained their coherent and broad national programs that they have at least fulfilled majority of them. Each manifesto focused on the intentions of the parties to promote development, introduce changes and make Ghana a better place for its citizens to enjoy thenational ‘cake’ equitably. Even though the documents include short-, medium- and long-term plans, the manifestos are largely seen as promises and specific strategic policy initiatives to be implemented within a four-year term. (see ayee 2009). The manifestos did, however, usefully catalogue the problems and challenges facing the country and how they can be addressed. They have become a useful place to catalogue the nation’s priorities. Some of the key recurring issues covered by the manifestos of both the NDC and NPP between 1992 and 2008, most of which have also featured in the manifestos of other political parties since independence, include

the imperative for good governance, economic concerns, employment, the role of the private sector, challenges to agriculture, improving basic service delivery, the decentralization question, securing peace and stability, fighting the narcotic menace,Ghana’s international role and relationships, and the discovery of oil. Other issues include the environment, gender equality, crime, energy and chieftaincy (see ayee 2009). Both the NDC and the NPP, to achieve the objectives of their manifestos, formulated broad development plans and strategies. The NDC’s strategies were contained in Vision2020: The First Step: 1996_2000 and the First Medium-Term Development Plan, 1997_2000. The NPP, on the other hand, published the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy, 2003_2005 and the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy, 2006_2009 and

Adopted the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative in 2001.The extent to which the manifesto objectives were realized can be gleaned from the state of the nation address in 2004 and 2008 and the parties’ respective manifestos. Independent literature has also substantiated or corroborated the parties’ own statements on their achievements. For the NDC, its achievementsinclude the following: (i) an improved macroeconomic environment characterized by an upward turn in growth, savings and investment; (ii) an expanded and improved national infrastructure, especially in road, port rehabilitation, electricity generation and distribution especially in the rural areas, and a vastly improved radio andtelecommunications network; (iii) the restoration of incentives for exports throughthe abolition of import licensing and a liberalisation of the foreign exchange regime;(iv) a solid health infrastructure with a system of teaching, regional and districthospitals and health centres; (v) a more reliable water delivery and sanitation systemthat had appropriately distinguished between the water needs of urban and rural

dwellers and developed systems to reflect those needs; (vi) the introduction of theGhana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) to support the financing of education and education-related expenditure; and (vii) an agricultural policy and program that hadresulted in the acclamation of Ghana’s Food Production Index of 148% as ‘the thirdlargest achievement in the record after Jordan (157%) and China (156%) by theWorld Bank’s 1999_2000 Development Report’.

The NPP, on the other hand, can point to the following legacy: (i) an internationally recognized good governance regime which has enlarged the freedoms of the individual citizen, institutions and the press through the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law; (ii) passing the Procurement Act, Whistleblower Act and other legal measures on public accounting to tackle corruption; (iii) earning US$547 million from the US government through the Millennium Challenge Account because of good governance; (iv) increase of the District Assemblies Common Fund from 5% to

7.5%; (v) the introduction of the National Youth Employment Programme in 2004which created 108 000 jobs; and (vi) the introduction of the National Health Insurance Scheme in 2003 to replace the ‘cash-and-carry’ under the NDC, School Feeding Programme, Capitation Grant and Metro Buses. These are all broad national programmes that were carried out by both the NPP and the NDC(see ayee 2011).

Policies and programs in the manifestos have since 1992 influenced voting patterns and voter motivations were amply demonstrated in the 2008 elections in Ghana. Voting patterns of elections in Ghana show that the influence of manifestos cannot be simply ignored; they contained the policies and programs of the parties which were being marketed to the electorate through campaigns, advertisements and debates by presidential candidates. For instance, it has been demonstrated that voting patterns of elections in Ghana since 1992 apart from ethnicity were also influenced by the quality of governance and poverty levels and the ideologies and programs of the two parties. Similarly, the NDC’s ‘I care for you’ manifesto message and making poverty reduction the main focus of its campaign promises, touting investment in people, jobs, the economy and making government more transparent and accountable, were part of its

trump card in the 2008 elections. The electorate saw this message as more appealing and deliverable than the NPP’s message which fought the elections on its record of eight years in office and focused on four thematic areas, namely, strengthening the country’s democracy, structural transformation of the economy and industrialisation,regional and continental integration and the modernization of Ghanaian society (see ayee 2009 ,2011) .The electorates in Ghana are evaluative of the various performances of these parties as far as their performances are concerned and thus influence their decisions to cast their ballot in favour of a political party.


The general objectives of this paper have been a critical analysis on what constitutes a programmatic party, the concept’s relevance in the Ghanaian context as far as political parties in Ghana are concerned as preference was given to the NPP and the NDC as they have once been in opposition and in government since the inception of the fourth republican dispensation. General arguments were raised as championed by several scholars and political scientists that supported the non-programmatic nature of Ghanaian political parties. On the other hand factual evidences clearly stated that these political parties are programmatic. I explained a programmatic party as a party that has an ideological congruence( set of beliefs that binds all members together), well-structured cardinal plan that embodies their coherent and consistent party programs , engages the citizenry in issue based politics , thus create voter linkages by making broad national credible commitments to the people in order to obtain mandate to ascend the reins of government.

This definition was generated due to the incorporation of several definitions by various scholars and political scientists. Generally this definition provided the dimension in which political parties were measured as being programmatic. The concept was linked into the Ghanaian context to help us understand whether these parties were just electoral machines who maneuvered their way through by employing several undemocratic strategies such as clientelism, patronage politics, and populist strategy to capture political power. Several scholars supported this assertion that political parties in Ghana are non-programmatic (see brobbey 2013). They attached populist politics to Ghanaian political parties explaining that these political parties resort to making policies that is tailored to suit certain section of the country in order to win votes and also distribute incentives in order to gain political support in return.

As I raise a critique to these assertions, I think that what these scholars fail to understand is that democracy is about the majority and as a matter of fact, the various evidences have shown that the NPP and the NDC have provided several manifestoes that covered broadly almost the various needs of the nation at large, and thus these coherent programmes served as the means to obtain the mandate of the electorates. Several examples of these broad national programmes have been bodly chalked (.ayee 2011)

This paper has shown that even though there are several undemocratic factors or varaibles that characterize the body poltic and thus single out political parties in Ghana namely the NPP and the NDC as being non programmatic ,thus the employment of clientelistic measures,or populist politics in order to win political power , the various evidences, factual details and the underpinings of the working definition of programmatic parties that have been provided , it is bodly chalked , that Ghanaian political parties can be fully characterized in the programmatic sense.


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Isaac Owusu Nsiah
Isaac Owusu Nsiah, © 2015

The author has 16 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: IsaacOwusuNsiah

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