When the polls close nationwide today at 5 pm local time, Ghana would have successfully seen the end of another general election – the eighth in 28 years – a testament to what has been described as one of Africa‘s more mature democracies.
The Ghanaian electorate, a little over 17 million, will be voting for a president and 275 lawmakers who should be in charge until the end of 2024. President Nana Akufo-Addo, 76, is seeking reelection against the immediate former head of state, John Mahama, 62.
Akufo-Addo’s New Patriotic Party (NPP) will also be looking to defend its 40-plus majority seats in the parliament, although pollsters and experts have predicted that Mahama’s National Democratic Congress (NDC) will most likely cut down the NPP’s advantage even if the NDC does not win overall. Ghana’s elections have yet to turn out a party majority in the legislature whose presidential candidate failed to win the executive race.
Ghana has been a de facto two-party democracy since 1992. The NDC has won four out of the last seven general election with the NPP winning the other three.
The NPP is a center-right party that traces its political tradition back to the anti-colonial work of mid-20th century educated elites in pre-independent Ghana. On the other hand, the NDC regards itself as center-left and was formed in 1992 by the recently deceased Jerry Rawlings who presided over the country’s longest military rule.
But the country’s elections do not pay heed to ideological bends. As a lower-middle-income African country, Ghana still struggles with teething development concerns. This means that the two major political parties are very similar in what they promise and in the way they govern, paying attention to the massive role played by the central government in education, employment, infrastructure and health.
Often, campaign promises can also fail to materialize due to pressure from international donors and the Bretton Woods institutions. This is not to say that mismanagement and corruption are not serious problems in the West African nation.
While he seeks to recapture the presidency on the back of his record as president between 2013 and 2017, Mahama has also relentlessly chided Akufo-Addo’s government on perceived corruption. Mahama, a former vice-president as well, is also promising to establish a free primary healthcare scheme for rural Ghanaians and create 250,000 jobs a year if voted back into office.
Akufo-Addo won Ghana’s presidency in 2016 on his third attempt and quickly moved to institute a promised free senior high school education policy he has campaigned on since 2008. His supporters say that policy and another where young university graduates are temporarily employed by government hold the promise of reelection.
Ghana has proven to be the envy of many on a continent that has struggled to couch a reputation for political stability. Three times, Ghanaians have changed one major political party for another without problems.
But many in the country believe Ghana has some way to go as pockets of violence are still common during elections and the country is at constant pains to live up to its motto of freedom and justice for especially the most vulnerable.