Statement: Rethinking Ghana’s winner-takes-all system


For Immediate Release

As part of its commitment to deepening and consolidating Ghana’s constitutional democracy, The Institute of Economic Affairs – Ghana has commenced a Constitutional Review Series, within which to review the Report of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) vis-a-vis the Government White Paper.

The first in the Constitutional Review Series was held on the 21st of August 2013, under the theme, “Rethinking Ghana’s Winner-Takes All System: What are the Alternatives beyond Proportional Representation?”

It will be re-called that the Constitutional Review Commission, in its Report, did not propose constitutional amendments regarding Ghana’s Electoral System. There have however been calls by Ghanaians for a re-thinking of the “Winner-Takes-All” syndrome that characterises national elections. It has nonetheless been argued that the nation may not be ready for the alternative of Proportional Representation.

The first in the IEA’s Constitutional Review Series therefore provided a platform for a discussion of the Winner-Takes-All syndrome and explored alternative solutions beyond Proportional Representation. The program was attended by over 80 representatives of Civil Society, Political Parties, Traditional Rulers, Clergy, Academia, Media, Members of Parliament, Ministers of State, and the Diplomatic Community. A presentation on the above theme was made by a senior lecturer at the GIMPA Law School. The ensuing discussion by participants explored the features of the “Winner-Takes-All” syndrome, its underlying cause and its effects.

Underlying Causes

Participants were of the opinion that the 1992 Constitution of Ghana was not the cause of the Winner-Takes-All syndrome and the dominance of the Executive over the other arms of Government. In their view, the 1992 Constitution provided adequate checks on the powers of the Executive by the Legislature and the Judiciary.

They agreed that the persistence of the Winner-Takes-All syndrome was due to a dysfunctional relationship between the Executive and the other arms of government, expected to keep the executive in check, particularly Parliament. They were of the view that changing the status quo and adopting Proportional Representation would not necessarily limit the excesses of the executive arm of government.

They expressed the view that the socio-cultural orientation of looking up to the Executive for the provision of basic needs and services without a formidable challenge by the constitutionally-mandated institutions had accounted for the Executive arm’s dominance and the politics of exclusion.

Effects of the “Winner-takes-All’ syndrome

• The Winner-Takes-All syndrome involves the capture of all echelons of political power and the control of all public resources by the winner of a national election. It typically involves a complete marginalization of opposition political forces from the governance process.
This tends to create high stakes during elections, leading to heightened tensions and risks of national insecurity. It undermines national cohesion and also has the effect of weakening a nation’s democratic credentials.

• The Winner-takes-All system affords inordinately high levels of power to the Executive arm of government, rendering the other arms of government, expected to hold the executive to account, virtually dysfunctional.

• The anticipation of the above effects of losing national elections makes parties desperate to win national elections and where they lose an election, they have no incentive to accept the results of the election, leading to intense national instability.


Participants offered the following proposals for reform that placed various responsibilities on the Legislature, the Judiciary, civil society, and politicians as follows:

1. The Winner-Takes-All system must change. To this end, the Legislature must be assertive in playing its constitutionally-mandated role of keeping the Executive in check.

The Legislature must ensure that allocation of resources by the Executive is effected in an inclusive and transparent manner and that the approval of ministerial nominees for public appointments is carried out solely on merit and not partisan grounds.

2. The Judiciary must invoke and actively apply the power of judicial review granted it under the 1992 Constitution as a means of bridling excessive powers of the executive.

3. Citizens must apply to the judiciary for protection and seek redress at the Courts when they are removed from public offices based on partisan considerations.

4. There should be effective and truly decentralized local governance. This will ensure inclusivity and participation across the political divide in the governance process.

In this regard, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives must be elected directly in order that parties that lose power at the national level may still have the opportunity of winning power at the local level and thereby participate in the governance of the country.

5. Politicians must change their attitude and psyche and embrace the democratic ideal of ensuring an all-inclusive government.

6. Civil Society must hold the winner of executive authority accountable to ensure that executive authority is not exercised for the benefit of members of one political grouping.


SIGNED CONTACT: Dr. Ransford Gyampo
…………………………………….. Research Fellow
Mrs Jean Mensa
Executive Director