Mixed reaction to proposed changes
... in NPP presidential candidate race ON Monday, The Statesman reported a proposed amendment to the governing party's manifesto, which would radically overhaul the way in which the New Patriotic Party chooses its next presidential candidate.
The proposed introduction of an initial round of voting by MPs and regional chairpersons to narrow down the list of potential presidential candidates was last week slated by Information Minister Dan Botwe as a “limitation of democracy”, disenfranchising party members by giving MPs and regional chairpersons a privileged role in decision making.
Others, however, have welcomed the proposal – and as leading NPP politicians continue to respond to the controversial suggestion, the UK branch-proposed amendment looks set to become a hot topic for debate at the party's National Congress meeting next month.
If accepted, the amendment would introduce a new first round of voting to the presidential candidate election procedure. Members of Parliament and regional chairpersons of the NPP would come up with an initial shortlist of no more than three potential candidates, which would only then be put to a wider vote by the Electoral College.
Nyaho Nyaho-Tamakloe, a founding member of the party, has described the proposed changes as “brilliant”:
“I agree entirely with the proposal, at least on paper,” he said in an interview with this reporter. “It makes a lot of sense to me – anyone who wants the party to stay in power will support it.”
Responding to the criticisms of Mr Botwe, Nyaho said that such arguments are skewing the issue: “The question should not be about which individual takes leadership of the party, but whether the leadership of the party can take power in 2008,” he said.
The main problem will be that of properly explaining and selling the amendment to party members, he said, particularly the grassroots.
“If the eventual presidential candidate was elected in this way, and so had the demonstrated backing of MPs and regional chairpersons, they could be sure of a broad base of support in the party – which could only increase their chances of success,” he said.
Another audible voice of support for the motion is that of Francis Kojo Smith, an aspirant to the post of General Secretary for the party. In fact, as well as praising the UK-branch proposed reform, Mr Smith has taken the idea one step further:
“I accept the idea in principal,” he said in an interview with The Statesman. “If there are ten or so candidates, these should definitely be whittled down to a shortlist” – which he proposes would be compiled by not only MPs but also members of the National Executive Council of the NPP and the National Election Commission.
However, this shortlist should then be put to a vote by not just the Electoral College, as the amendment specifies, or even a Delegates Congress, but by all “ordinary” NPP members (by which he meant fully paid-up and card-carrying members, he said).
Mr Smith said he agreed to an extent with the justifications put forward by the proponents of the amendment, particularly their argument that MPs may be less susceptible to bribery, meaning such reforms would reduce the influence of money in the presidential candidate race.
However, he also said it was the prerogative of party members to decide their presidential candidates, and that a ringing endorsement from party members nationwide instead of a smaller group would increase the winning candidate's chances of overall success in the 2008 elections.
Other politicians have been more sceptical about the proposals. Senior Minister J H Mensah questioned the weight of the proposed amendment, given its UK-origins. “We need to sound out party opinion on the matter,” he said in an interview with this reporter, “but I think the proposals need to come from more influential quarters if they are going to get anywhere.”
Agreeing, however, that the last presidential contest in 2004 illustrated a pressing need for reform – the amendment refers to “the financial inducements and the electoral college tapping by certain aspiring candidates in the last Parliamentary primaries to manipulate the democratic process” – he called for the party to “sanitise and rationalise” its election methods.
“As it is now, anyone can throw in his towel and join the contest,” he said. “There is a feeling within the party that there must be some kind of system to make it more respectful, and less of a free-for-all.”
Yet he cautioned consideration over the issue, pointing out that the elections remain three years away. “We need to take our time over any decision, to let the issue mature and properly consider the benefits. If we try to push the issue, we won't get anywhere,” he said.
He warned that the NPP should not lose focus on its ultimate aim: “For the moment, the party should be positioning itself to win the election; rather than candidates positioning themselves to win the support of the party,” he counselled.
And B J da Roche, another founding member of the party, was more critical still. “The idea presupposes that MPs would be less open to bribery than ordinary party members; but this is nonsense to say that they cannot be influenced,” he told The Statesman. “The proposed amendment would solve nothing.”
The suggested system draws from the model of the UK Conservative party, where sitting MPs produce a shortlist of candidates to be voted on by party members. A popular but contrasting model is that of US-style regional primaries, under which each region would be able to nominate its own preferred candidate, with the candidate winning the most overall support taking the party's presidential candidacy.
Mr da Roche, however, favoured neither idea. He believes that the issue of money in election campaigns is one that should be solved through educating voters, rather than reforming the system.
“There is no need to meddle with the system,” he said. “The important thing is to mount the proper process of educating members against throwing their money around and being influenced by money – which leads to corruption,” he added.