The battle lines have been firmly drawn, as fierce backstage wranglings and manoeuvres get underway within the main opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), five days to its National Delegates Congress in Tamale.
As the party gets ready for its crucial Saturday, April 12, congress in the Northern Regional capital to elect nine national executive officers out of the 44 contesting candidates, it seems the NPP is putting in every effort to keep the centre together.
All the candidates vying for the various positions are putting final touches to their campaigns across the country.
Political pundits and party insiders are, however, zeroing in on the candidates contesting the positions of national chairman and general secretary, which many believe will be the most keenly contested.
The national chairman and the general secretary positions are the most competitive in the national executive elections.
For the chairmanship, the incumbent, Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, from the Greater Accra Region, is being challenged by business mogul, Mr Paul Afoko, from the Upper East Region; Mr Stephen Ntim from the Brong Ahafo Region, and incumbent First Vice-Chairman, Mr Fred Oware from the Central Region.
The incumbent General Secretary, Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, popularly known as Sir John, faces stiff competition from Kwabena Agyepong, a former Presidential Spokesperson in the Kufuor Administration; Capt Nkrabea Effah-Darteh (rtd), a former Member of Parliament for Berekum, and Yaw Buaben Asamoa, a former Deputy Communications Director of the NPP.
The races for the chairman and the general secretary positions of the party have generated a lot of enthusiasm and interest, culminating in the emergence of so-called blocs or factions.
This is because who become the party chairman and the general secretary is a crucial matter as far as the NPP’s 2016 electoral fortunes are concerned.
While the chairman is the administrative authority, the general secretary is the anchor who brings all executives together to get things done.
Who is winning?
Reports gathered by the Daily Graphic from across the country point to a close contest for the chairmanship, with Mr Afoko (third on the ballot) almost certain to grab the position.
He has two things going in his favour — his rich party work experience, particularly in the three northern regions, and his experience in the world of business and politics.
One key advantage going in his favour is the fact that when he is elected, the NPP will be able to discard the Akan tag that is hanging on its neck as an albatross.
But incumbent National Chairman, Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey (first on the ballot), former First Vice-National Chairman, Mr Ntim (second on the ballot) and First Vice- Chairman, Mr Oware (fourth on the ballot) are each likely to cause an upset.
In politics everything is possible and if Mr Afoko does not become complacent, he looks likely to annex the chairmanship of the NPP.
But other pundits predict that the battle for the chairmanship of the party will be a close contest between Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey and Mr Ntim, arguing that a win for Mr Afoko may be a major upset.
The contest for the general secretary position is a real herculean one which has incumbent Owusu-Afriyie and Agyepong slugging it out. This is not to discount the chances of Mr Buaben Asamoa and Capt Effah-Darteh, both of whom are leaving no stone unturned in their bid to clinch victory.
In spite of assurances by the National Election Committee of the NPP of a level playing field to ensure free, fair and transparent processes, there seems to be suspicion among some candidates and party stalwarts.
Some of the candidates have expressed concern over accreditation, proxy voting and the fact that there will be no speeches at the venue of the congress.
After a stakeholders’ meeting at the NPP Headquarters in Accra last Thursday, the candidates who had expressed some reservations resolved that in the interest of the party, they would adhere to laid down rules and regulations governing the congress.
In another development, a general secretary aspirant, Mr Buaben Asamoa, in a strong-worded statement issued on April 6, 2014, attacked the incumbent General Secretary, Mr Owusu Afriyie, for inducing the delegates with huge sums of money to vote for him (Sir John).
“We are also informed that certain persons are going round the country inducing delegates on Sir John’s behalf, which inducement has resulted in further disapproval of his candidature by delegates,” it said.
Already, a Chief of Staff in the Kufuor administration, Mr Kwadwo Mpiani, has signalled a clear warning to some regional NPP chairmen who are believed to be using Nana Akufo-Addo’s name to campaign against other candidates perceived to be associates of former President J. A. Kufuor.
The coming four days will be crucial to the pre and post-congress unity efforts of the party and if issues are not handled with care and tact, the fallout could encourage key supporters, aides and the candidates themselves to go at one another.
Ahead of the congress, the party has sent out a strong warning to all those who may want to do anything to undermine the smooth conduct of the event, more especially those who intend to instigate violence to mar the exercise, “to mend their ways before they are met with the brute force of the law”.
Meanwhile, 1,200 policemen and 100 soldiers will be deployed to provide security at the upcoming congress.
This security arrangement, according to the Director of Elections of the NPP, Martin Adjei-Mensah Korsah, was to ensure order and success of the programme.
As part of the strict security arrangement, party members without accreditation have also been urged not to go to the congress venue, the Tamale Sports Stadium, since they will not be allowed entry.
Candidates going for the first, second and third vice-chairman positions are Mr Freddie Blay, a former First Deputy Speaker of Parliament and former MP for Ellembelle; Mr Sammy Crabbe, a former Greater Accra Regional Chairman of the party; Mr Fred Amankwa Sarfo, Mr Kenwood Nuworsu, the immediate past Volta Regional Chairman of the party; Mr Frederick Fredua Antoh, the immediate past Ashanti Regional Chairman; Hajia Fati Amadu, Sheikh T. B. Damba and Mr Michael Omari Wadie, a former Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency Chairman.
Another position that has attracted an equal measure of interest is that of national organiser, where the incumbent National Organiser, Alhaji Moctar Bamba, is being hotly challenged by Mr Hopeson Adorye, a member of the NPP communication team; Mr John Boadu, a former deputy communications director and one-time National Youth Organiser, and Mr Mahama Mahamoud, a former Upper East Regional Organiser.
Those contesting the national youth organiser position are Mr Sammy Awuku, a former deputy communications director; Mr Pius Enam Hadzide, the 2012 parliamentary candidate of the NPP in the Ketu North Constituency; Mr Charles David Asante, the Spokesperson of the defunct Let My Vote Count Alliance; Mr Richard Nyamah, Mr Michael Kwabena Ampong, the Greater Accra Regional Communications Director; Ms Gifty Oware and the incumbent National Youth Organiser, Mr Emmanuel Attafuah-Danso.
Mr Mawusi Nudeko Awity, a former parliamentary aspirant for South Tongu, and Ms Tina Mensah, the incumbent Deputy National Women’s Organiser, are challenging the incumbent National Women’s Organiser, Ms Otiko Afisa Djaba, for that position.
Other positions to be contested include the national treasurer, where incumbent Esther Ofori is been challenged by Ms Sussie Mensah, Hajia Ruka Ahmed and Mr Kwabena Yeboah.
The Nasara coordinator position is being contested by Mr Mohammed Ibrahim, Mr Kasim Ibrahim, Mr Haruna Maiga, Mr Kamal Deeni, Alhaji Sulemana Laku Laku, Alhaji Baba Ibrahim and Mr Salifu Yahaya Bo.
The NPP national executive elections are part of the re-organisation process of the party towards the 2016 general election.