Feature Article of Friday, 30 November 2012
Columnist: Atugiya, David
In seven days time Ghanaians will be heading to the polls to vote for a President and 275 Parliamentarians. All indications are that President John Mahama and the NDC, against all odds, will be re-elected despite the hype of opposition commentators, spokes persons and some rented media speculations that the contest is too close to call.
There are several related factors at play in President Mahama and NDC victory, come 7 December 2012.
President Mahama’s campaign machine offers a rewarding template for understanding some critical aspects of Ghanaian elections, namely, the recruitment of voters and how to sell ideas on policy matters and social issues to the electorate. By looking closely at John Mahama’s campaign organisation and its operation we learn why and how he will defeat the opposition parties by winning more popular votes (predictably; more than 54%) and more regions ( namely, Greater Accra, Western, Central, Volta, Northern, Upper East, Upper West respectively).
John Mahama and his campaign team are campaigning on social and economic issues that appeal to a cross-section of the electorate; affordable health care (NHIS); and the government’s role in meeting personal, community, and national challenges. In four years John Mahama and NDC performance have been more encouraging as compared to the NPP in their first four years. Also the effective campaign strategy, consistency, empathy, and effective communication employed by the team have played a major role. John Mahama’s acceptance and participation in the two IEA debates undoubtedly enhanced his approval rate particularly not only about his person and likeability but also on the issues that were raised at the two debates. Arguably, without being political blind or bias one will accept that the performance of President Mahama, since continuing the “better Ghana agenda” of late President Atta Mills has been formidable.
In order to appreciate the late Atta Mills and John Mahama’s first term performance, it must be recalled that they inherited a huge budget deficit; an economic depression with global ripple effects; and a battered Ghanaian image abroad. They quickly adopted a stimulus package to boost the economy; extended employment schemes; tightened the regulations on financial institutions, prudently managed the micro economy; reduced the inflation rate to single digit and stabilised the local currency.
Again, not only did the late Atta Mills/John Mahama and the NDC government smartly and wisely embraced the popular interventions such as the NHIS, Capitation Grant, and School Feeding Programme of the Kufour regime but they also introduced other social and economic interventions. The NDC’s handling of the oil find, the non interference of the Judiciary in the prosecution of political opponents in alleged crimes and upholding the rule of law; all added up to improve Ghana’s image abroad and consolidated her influence on the international scene.
There are policy differences between John Mahama’s NDC and Nana Akufo-Addo’s NPP on the economy, military spending, immigration, Health, Education, and the size and role of government resulted partly from their social backgrounds (Mahama rose from bottom up; Nana Akufo Addo was born into wealth and influence) and partly from the ideological divide between their political parties. The differences between the two in personality, demeanour, likeability, and empathy scores John Mahama highly by those who want a president “who cares for the people” and will therefore vote for him.
But John Mahama still need more than his first term performance, progressive ideology, and favorable personal characteristics to win the election. Several circumstantial factors worked in his favour. First, he was made president after the untimely death of the late President Mills, also he was spared a primary election as no one in his party stood against him at NDC party congress where he was elected as presidential candidate of the NDC Party.
With Nana Akufo Addo however, he faced at least 3 NPP primaries to be elected as presidential candidate amongst other contestants. Arguably, the experience has prepared Nana Akufo Addo for the presidential campaign, but it has also exposed his vulnerabilities. In order to win the 3 flag bearer contests of his party, he took extreme conservative policy positions, but changed them as he moved to the centre during this year’s presidential campaign with his free SHS policy.
Mahama has highlighted Nana Akufo Addo negative and deceitful traits in several campaign adverts as well as on several campaign platforms, referring to Nana Addo shifting positions and false statements on his person and campaign messages. He has skillfully exposed Nana Akufo Addo’s capitalist flip flop non substance campaigns.
Nana Addo and NPP’s faulty campaign strategy based on their single issue of free SHS, his double-tongue on the NHIS and foreign policy; and his campaign team’s heavy reliance on character assassination will boost John Mahama’s election fortunes. Some of his campaign surrogates, including his NPP chairman, Sir John, Abu Jinabor and others sadly even engage in tribal insinuations to attract minority voters. In contrast, John Mahama has insisted it is better to move forward with his better Ghana Agenda; highlighting the various achievements of the NDC on the economic, health, education, employment, and social issues as well as raising the standards of living for the middle and working classes who mostly reside in rural areas.
By far, Mahama’s major campaign assets are his communicative effectiveness and his campaign team’s “ground game”. His ability to connect with so called floating voters; has assisted him to widen his approval rate and voter base. The campaign team in my view has studied the voting pattern and new demographic trends and has identified expanding groups of voters, namely, women, youth, and college and university young students. Thousands of volunteers (JM Volunteers, JM Fun Club, Women for JM etc) have been recruited across the country and abroad, who have gone after these groups, especially in the seven regions that Mahama and the NDC are sure to win; knocking on doors, encouraging existing voters in these groups to vote, and assisting new ones to register. The team and volunteers have also gone after chiefs, religious and community leaders as well as the middle and working classes and women voters especially those under 45 years of age.
These groups find Mahama’s policies and campaign messages more attractive than Nana Addo’s. For example, most women are pleased with Mahama’s pledge to continue with the policy of engaging more women in ministerial positions, students are excited about the free distributions of 400,000 laptops to students up and down the country, his planned higher education expansion, especially Teacher Training Colleges, more Universities and improving faculty and infrastructure on all the ten Polytechnic campuses in order to upgrade them into full-fledged technical Universities.
Generally, students, parents, women and floating voters warm up to John Mahama quality education campaign and other campaign messages. It will not be surprising; therefore, that he will win over these groups and others, with wide margins and consequently win the presidential elections.
John Mahama’s campaign and ultimate win in the December 2012 elections in the history of Ghana will among others teach Ghanaian politicians three things. One, that an election campaign should be understood as an occasion to build (or build upon) a broad coalition of supporters, and ensure that they vote on election day. Two, in order to remain consistent, believable and trusted, a candidate must have an ideological core from which programmes, values, policies are developed. Three, with a successful “ground game” and effective communication, elections are winnable, without a godfather, a band of thugs, unnecessary mudslinging, treat of violence and rigging.
The author is a Human Rights and Social Justice Campaigner, Finance and Management Consultant; Specialist in NGO; Chartered Fellow CMI and Millennium Awards Fellow.