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Vol 61 No 25

Published 17th December 2020


A twist in the election tale

After making big gains in parliament, the opposition rejects the presidential results – the lawyers on all sides will be busy

buCopyright © Africa Confidential 2020

It was all running like clockwork. The verdict in the national elections on 7 December was set to be free and clear of dispute – more or less a repeat of the seamless process in the 2016 elections, and a strengthening of the three-decade-old multi-party system (AC Vol 57 No 25, A turning point vote for the Black Star). But the elections have been none of the above. The main opposition party is crying foul, refusing to recognise the results, and is heading for the courts.

Calls by a ruling party leader in Ashanti for the arrest of his opposition counterpart on treason charges on 16 December gives a sense of the deepening polarisation between the two biggest parties: the ruling New Patriotic Party and the opposition National Democratic Congress. Politicians and civic activists warn about tensions spinning out of control.

Until now, Ghana has been an oasis of political calm while neighbours have been shaken by insurgent groups pushing for secessionist or jihadist causes. Both sides could easily draw back from the last week of sabre-rattling. Some cross-party cooperation will be essential to running a government next year, especially with the strong possibility of a hung parliament after the current disputes are settled.

The Electoral Commission announced on 9 December that incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo won the presidential election with 6,730,587 votes (51.3%) while former President John Mahama polled 6,213,182 (47.4%). Third party and independent candidates won just 1.339% of the votes. Results for the Techiman South constituency were still awaited as we went to press.

At his party headquarters on the following day, Mahama said there was a 'deliberate plan to manipulate and predetermine the results of the election in favour of the incumbent candidate'. He also accused Akufo-Addo's government of using state resources and 'other schemes on a scale never before seen' to influence the outcome of the election.

Still more seriously, Mahama questioned the neutrality of the armed forces which he said had been used to 'reverse election results, and used to insist on recounts in areas in which the incumbent has lost whilst arm-twisting election officers during these supposed recounts'.

Tally tussle
The NDC also says it won 140 of the 275 parliamentary seats and 'would not accept anything short of a declaration of the legitimate results'. Dismissing this, the Commission announced on 10 December that the NPP had won 137 seats out of 274 constituencies declared, with the NDC on 136 and one independent MP, Andrews Amoako in Fomena constituency. The results of the Sene West constituency are outstanding due to administrative problems over the creation of a new local government area.

Most local and international observers judged the elections peaceful and credible, but some, along with civil society groups such as the Imani Centre, have criticised the Commission's operations and communications.

The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) said that it had verified the official results using a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT). That's based on data it received from 1,502 polling stations across the country's 16 regions. It added that the two main parties had agents at over 99% of the polling stations and they had signed the official results declaration forms and had copies of them. It criticised the Commission's response when it was found to have made errors in adding up voter tallies, but said these errors would not have affected the outcomes in the presidential or parliamentary races.

CODEO did not respond directly to the NDC claims that use of tallies from the 16 regions by the Commission in Accra, instead of taking results directly from each of the 275 constituencies as in previous elections, had allowed errors and confusion to creep in.

With Liberia's former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the helm, the Economic Commission for West African States' observer mission praised the vote effusively and called on other states to emulate Ghana's example. President Akufo-Addo is the current chairman of Ecowas. According to the Ghana Police, five people were shot dead in 61 'electoral and post-electoral' incidents and the government has been ramping up security across the country.

The NDC is likely to contest the parliamentary results in at least six constituencies: Essikado Kentan, Sefwi Wiawso, Sene West, Techiman South, Tarkwa Nsuaem and Zabzugu. It says they were fraught with irregularities such as ballot box snatching, over-voting, inconsistent tallying of votes, declaration of bulk results without the supporting result forms (the so-called pink sheets). If successful those challenges would give the NDC a working majority in parliament.

The NPP is to challenge the results of the Banda and Nkwanta North constituencies over claims of inconsistent tallying of votes. All the petitions over the parliamentary results will be adjudicated individually at the High Court.

Although his colleagues say they have a 'crack team of lawyers' with 'forensic evidence' of malfeasance in the presidential elections, Mahama is yet to confirm that he will challenge the results at the Supreme Court. He has 21 days after the formal declaration of results on 9 December to file a petition.

The last such case, brought by Akufo-Addo in 2012, dragged on for over eight months and stalled much government business (AC Vol 54 No 15, The vote on trial). Under the new rules, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on any petition within 42 days.

Even if the Commission's results stand, the NPP's slim majority and the NDC's impressive gains, of over 30 seats, should strengthen parliamentary scrutiny. Important public agreements, legislation and executive appointments require a simple majority but are likely to be fiercely contested from now on.

Sene West in Bono East region voted for the NDC's Kwame Twum Ampofo in 2016. If the NDC holds the seat, it will be equally matched with the NPP, with the sole Independent MP holding the balance of power.

That may affect the election of a parliamentary speaker: there is no requirement that the Speaker must come from the Majority. The Independent MP for Fomena could have the casting vote on this any many other issues.

However the legal disputes and political bargaining turn out, the NDC has pulled off a comeback in parliament at least, setting the country up for another close contest in four years time.

Insiders say that Mahama would be likely to run again in 2024 but competition for the NPP ticket would be intense. The field would be headed by Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, a Muslim from northern Ghana and said to be Akufo-Addo's choice as successor, He could likely face heavyweight rivals such as Joe Ghartey (Railways Minister), Alan Kyerematen (Trade), Kyeremateng Agyarko (former Energy), and Ken Ofori Atta (Finance). Party managers in the NPP will be hard-pressed over the next four years.

Hung parliament may boost scrutiny

The narrowness of the gap between the two main parties in parliament may raise its potential to demand unprecedented accountability from government, political pundits are saying.

Parliament is better known as a rubber stamp for presidential programmes than as a legislative inquisitor. Governments of both parties have rammed through laws on 'certificates of urgency' widely believed to curtail debate. Controversial bills are tabled on the last day of parliamentary sessions and other devices used to prevent too many questions being asked.

Politicians advocating a greater role for parliament are enthused, we hear, by the idea that an 'awkward squad' in the NPP or NDC now has the potential to prevent the chamber glossing over controversial issues that could embarrass the leadership, possibly by expanding the role of select committees.

The Agyapa gold royalties scheme, the Karpower electricity scandal, and the Tema harbour container terminal contract – on which Africa Confidential is shortly to publish a major investigation – are just some of the projects that could come under the parliamentary spotlight.

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