Call to a new political dispensation

President-elect Prof. Atta MillsSoon the excitement and passions of December 2008 elections will be stilled. Then we Ghanaians, especially in the politically active classes, will now have to sit down and soberly arrange how the business of the nation can be carried out, smoothly and efficiently, for the next four years.

Our Constitution is based on the doctrine that the best form of governance is to entrust power to all the citizens to decide who shall be our rulers for a limited period at a time.

The electorate are called, to review their decision every four years after listening to the advocacy of a multiplicity of freely competing political parties. During the past year Ghanaians have for the most part gone through these processes with admirable enthusiasm and mutual tolerance.

As in every democratic community, the assumption of our Constitution has been that after such a process of political competition there will emerge clearly a winning majority and a losing minority group.

The former will assume the powers of the executive and the latter would provide the loyal opposition. The Constitution never envisaged a situation where the electorate would be evenly divided such that there is no clear-cut majority or minority, with the risk that the nation’s business and interests could be blockaded behind a gridlock of political party interests and numbers.

In the successive legs of the December 2008 elections the sovereign electorate of Ghana issued a bewildering series of verdicts which are unprecedented in the history of universal suffrage elections. On December 7 we voted to give Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP a majority of 100,000 votes over Prof. Atta Mills of the NDC. Then on December 28 we reversed our decision to give Prof. Mills a majority of 23,000, subsequently increased to 40,000 after the confused events in the last one of Ghana’s 230 constituencies to vote.

As a nation, our political dilemma is this: neither Akufo-Addo’s 100,000 in the first round nor Prof. Atta Mills’ 40,000 majority in the second round constitutes a numerically or politically significant majority in a poll of 9 million voters and a national population of 24 million. The technical rules of the Electoral law prescribe that Dr. Afari-Gyan declare Prof Atta Mills the winner. And Nana Akufo-Addo has bowed to that verdict.

On Wednesday 7 January 2009 Prof. Atta Mills will be sworn in as President of the Republic of Ghana with bi-partisan consent. But, clearly, the higher national duty of both sides is now to agree on a series of arrangements, in Parliament and in the Executive, that enable the nation’s business and interests to move forward, avoiding political stalemate.

Prof. Atta Mills is not only a patriot but also a political realist. He knows that he cannot rest solely on the mandate of the 50 percent of Ghanaian voters who voted for him to exercise the executive power of the nation. The other 50 per cent who voted for Nana Akufo-Addo cannot simply be ignored.

Similarly, Nana Akufo-Addo knows that his claim to Presidential power has been denied by the letter of law, even though fully one-half of the people voted for him. Somehow, between them they must square this circle.

In trying to resolve the difficult issues arising from this political situation both Prof. Mills and Nana Akufo-Addo will face as many obstacles from their own sides as from the other. Many NPP activists are apprehensive about the implications of NDC rule for their personal and economic security.

And for equal numbers of NDC activists the idea after the elections is that “It is now our turn”. Such people will not take at all kindly to Prof. Mills acknowledging that the other half of the electorate have to be brought on board in order to assure fully the legitimacy and stability of government for the immediate future.

As the oldest practicing politician on the national scene, and on the eve of my retirement from Parliament, I feel it incumbent on me to advise our political leaders on both sides. Ordinarily, this football-loving nation is divided between Hearts and Kotoko. But when there is a national assignment we know how to unite behind the Black Stars. Both Prof. Atta Mills and Nana Akufo-Addo are footballers, and they should have no difficulty in appreciating that, as a result of the outcome of these elections, they cannot play the Hearts versus Kotoko game for the time being. They have to join together to build a united front behind the Black Star of Ghana.

Other nations before Ghana have faced a similar need to close political ranks, and even to suspend party political contestation for a while, in order to face up to higher imperatives of the national Interest. In Britain the Conservative and Labour parties joined together to confront the Hitlerite threat to the very existence of the nation.

But even before that war had ended the political parties found it expedient to return to their traditional contest, and Clement Attlee, the Labour leader who had been the deputy chief in the coalition, won the election and replaced the wartime hero, Winston Churchill himself, as Prime Minister of Britain.

In Germany the competing factions of political ideology in a devastated and divided nation joined together in a Grand Coalition after the war to save and rebuild their country. Once the critical period had passed they resumed their traditional competition between Social Democrats and Christian Democrats.

I sense that many of my colleagues in the NPP are apprehensive about losing the identity and virility of our party if we should cooperate with an NDC administration. History does not bear out their fears.

Today, Ghana stands on the threshold of a brilliant and prosperous future. Our potential in national development could once more lift not only our own people but also the whole continent of Africa into a new era of achievement and dignity. I entreat the two sides:

  • The People of Ghana themselves have not chosen a winner or a loser: neither of you should think or behave as winner or loser.
  • The Voters have spoken evenly between two political programmes and leaderships. Ghana is not therefore a polarized nation. Equal numbers of people like the thrust and content of two competing party programmes. But those programmes are not antagonistic, or even so different from each other.
  • Let us bow to the command of the Sovereign People, of the Constitution, and of the Law. The two halves of Ghana need to work together so that the nation can survive and prosper.

I call on all our peoples everywhere, of whatever political persuasion, to join in a Grand Concert of all Political Forces to move forward our nation Ghana.

Credit: J.H. MENSAH