Internal Democracy in Ghana’s Political Parties: Elections or elites’ selections?



Every political observer in Ghana and across the diaspora feels the buzz of the internal political contest within the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP). Both the traditional and the various new media platforms have expectedly provided the needed oxygen required for an important contest like this to dominate debates and analytical discussions within the  Ghanaian public sphere.

While we wait with bated breath for the eventual climax of the contest in early November that will finally pitch the two major contenders (Assin Central Member of Parliament, Kennedy Ohene Agyapong and Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia) against each other, various developments stemming from the previous internal political competitions require sober and wider reflections from all stakeholders.
These stakeholders include the political parties, media, academia, civil society groups and the general citizenry.

This is because, while we are witnessing controversies in the political processes of the NPP leading to the resignation of one of the key contenders, Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen,  elections in Ghana across the two major parties (National Democratic Congress and New Patriotic Party) since the beginning of the political transition in Ghana in 1992 under the so-called ‘third wave democratization process’ have largely mirrored elites’ competitions and contestations. This is in spite of the numerous reforms across the political parties to ‘sanitise’ the system and give it a veneer of mass participation. With one or two exceptions since the beginning of the so-called liberal order steered by the military under the leadership of Chairman Jerry John Rawlings, incumbent presidents or candidates favoured by incumbent presidents during internal presidential contests in almost all cases have emerged as the winners or presidential candidates of their parties.

For instance, in 1992, the then incumbent military head of state, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, represented his party as the candidate for the presidential elections after some internal deliberations with his party leadership. Although at the time, one can easily point at the military incumbency at play, President Rawlings per se had never hidden his abhorrence to any form of internal or even external democratic competition. Many political pundits, especially his opponents interpreted this stance from Rawlings as a vestige of his militarism and an unalloyed desire to perpetuate his military dictatorship that dominated Ghana for almost two decades.

However, his consistent argument, just like that of President Kwame Nkrumah of the First Republic was the inherent national division and unhealthy and often destructive political partisanship that is inherent in multi-party politics. Both Nkrumah and Rawlings believed that these ethnic, political, and social divisions inherent in the competitive liberal order have the tendency to distract the country from its cherished goal of economic and social development. Their views remain debatable, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the entrenching ideals of globalisation, and the near universalisation of democracy starting from the early 1990s.

Global and local pressures forced late President Rawlings to acquiesce to constitutional order in 1992 PC: Prime News Ghana

However, global and local pressures forced Rawlings not only to acquiesce to the constitutional order but also to accept the two-term limit rule now rooted in the Ghanaian constitutional order. Therefore, he had no other alternative than to hand over political power after the 2000 elections.  Thus, in the run-up to the year 2000 presidential election, military incumbency gave way to democratic incumbency when the NDC selected Prof John Evans Atta Mills as the flagbearer of the then ruling NDC with the prodding of President Rawlings.

Although the so-called ‘Swedru Declaration’ was detested by some key and ambitious members of the ruling NDC leading to several resignations and indifference of scores of them, particularly those led by Augustus Goosie Obuadum Tanoh, the NDC under Rawlings, at least maintained its revolutionary values of what they believed as ‘consensus democracy’ internally despite derision from the then main opposition NPP of lack of internal democracy and democratic dictatorship. Nonetheless, the NPP in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 elections had largely gone through some form of internal contests involving some of the party’s key contenders such as Prof Albert Kwadwo Adu Boahen, former President John Agyekum Kufuor, current President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo among several others.

There was, thus, a veneer of liberal democratic values in the NPP as against what were perceived as illiberal NDC which from 1992 to at least 2000 elections had refused to accept any form of internal contest. In the NDC, the elites whether military as in 1992 or civilian as in both 1996 and 2000 were seen to be in absolute control and there was no question of opening the frontiers for mass participation in the internal contest to elect the party’s presidential candidate.

However, in the run-up to the 2004 elections, the pendulum swung and the NDC now in opposition allowed reforms that opened the internal political processes to the masses within the party while the now ruling NPP, fearing division within their ranks and distraction on President Kufuor’s government only allowed consensus democracy that permitted the popular acclamation of the incumbent president as the party’s presidential candidate. While there was limited or no internal dissension in the 2004 elections, the run-up to the 2008 elections, however, posed the gravest risks to NPP’s internal cohesion and unity as was seen in the deployment of various predatory measures including intimidation of government appointees, excessive propaganda, and massive financial and material inducement to the delegates to maximise the votes of Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen, the candidate favoured by incumbent president Kufuor.

Although incumbent President Kufuor was openly non-committal in expressing or showing support for his heir apparent between the two major contenders (Alan and Akufo-Addo) for obvious reasons, few observers will disagree with the claim that he not only favoured Alan but deployed every conceivable predatory approach to get him voted as the party’s candidate for the 2008 election. Nana Akufo-Addo escaped that internal competition by a whisker as Alan decided after some deliberations, presumably with President Kufuor and ultra-powerful and influential chief of staff, Kwadwo Okyere Mpiani, among others, to surrender his rights for a run-off. Both leading contenders had earlier failed to garner the required 50+1 (fifty plus one per cent) vote in the first contest to break the political stalemate.

The NDC, on the other hand, on the side of the internal contest had earlier incubated various violent incidents including allegations of merciless horsewhipping of leading members opposed to the elections of Prof. John Evans Mills as the presidential candidate of the party. Many of these renegade elements, after massive controversy in the media and the public arena, announced their break away from the NDC to form the now defunct Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) with Obed Yao Asamoah as the key ‘rebel’ leader.

Despite that, the NDC and Prof Mills emerged victorious in the 2008 elections but had to immediately grapple with another internal election that proved the biggest headache for incumbent President Mills and his followers. Not only was this internal election the first major contest against an incumbent president but also the first against former First Lady (Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings), whose husband Rawlings was instrumental in the coronation of Prof Mills as the candidate of the NDC and the president of Ghana in 2008 elections. In the end, Nana Konadu was hugely defeated and only took solace in the formation of her political party (National Democratic Party) which still remains a fringe organization in the country’s political processes in spite of the death of Prof Mills and the eventual take-over of the NDC by his Vice President and protégé, John Dramani Mahama, in 2012 through to 2016.

Equally, Nana Addo has remained a consistent face on the presidential ballot for the NPP since winning the 2007 presidential candidate position at the expense of Alan and eventually ascended the throne in 2017 after various contests both within the party and outside.

Former NPP presidential candidate cited intimidation of his supporters and manipulation of the election in favour of one candidate for his resignation from the party in September 2023 PC: Citinewsroom

Now the biggest test for the unity of the NPP since the political transition of 1992 is posed by the ongoing internal contest in the party which has created a first casualty (Alan’s resignation and formation of an independent movement). Alan’s complaints of incumbency abuse mirror several of such trajectories of internal contests among the major parties since at least the 2000 elections and raise the issues of inconsistencies and hypocrisy among Ghana’s political elites of all hues. For instance, while on the one hand, they have consistently parroted the idea of opening up the democratic space for mass internal processes and participation, on the other, they deploy all manner of predatory (often called ‘mafia’ ways) approaches including intimation, open violence, binge and sophisticated propaganda, coercion and co-optation and massive use of financial inducement to usurp the very mandate they claim they have created for their grassroots members to get involved in the political process.

Now, if all incumbents since 1992 had used or tried to use all means possible including the trappings and privileges of power to get themselves or their favoured candidates elected to lead their various parties, why do the same political elites for years continue buzzing in our ears the necessity for any form of internal democratic reforms that guarantee the political choices and preferences of their grassroots members across the country? If the voices and the choices of the ordinary party members really matter in the internal processes as everybody is made to believe, why the abuse of incumbency, internal political intimidation, financial inducement, destructive propaganda and other predatory political actions?

The use and the abuse of the trappings of incumbency, particularly financial muscle has been studied, analysed and spoken about extensively by academics and various pundits and stakeholders of the political processes for years and yet the situation continues to escalate election after election and there seems to be no end in sight regardless of whether the party in power is NDC or the NPP. Therefore, is there any wonder that at the end of every general election since 1992, particularly when power was oscillating to a different hand at the end of the mandatory two terms of the incumbent, we are told the national economy has experienced excessive expenditure and fiscal slippages and, therefore, ordinary citizens must accept punishing economic austerity?

Again, is it any wonder that the so-called political business cycle in Ghana has defied any conceivable remedy despite reform measures after measures by successive governments since 1992?  It is, therefore, important to remind all political and economic stakeholders in the country of the truism that similar actions always attract similar results and that the economic status quo of widespread hardship, poor infrastructure, unemployment and poverty in Ghana will continue so long as we continue doing the same thing over and over again without abating!

The writer is a Political Science Lecturer at the University of Education, Winneba.

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