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Issues to watch as Ghana decides 2020

For a third consecutive time and between two familiar giants, a showdown is afoot between incumbent Nana Akufo-Addo, candidate of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) running for a second term, and his challenger former President John Mahama, candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). 

Ghanaians thronged to the voting booths as polls kicked off a few hours ago across 16 regions.  With about 17 million denizens set to cast their ballots in presidential and parliamentary elections for the next president for a four-year term and 275 members of congress.

Although previous elections had their knotty issues, Ghana has, over time demonstrated a preparedness and capacity for transparent and credible polls.

On Friday, presidential candidates of the two-horse race signed a peace deal to respect the verdict from the outcome of the polls.

When Mahama won the December 2012 polls, he won 50.4% of the votes. In 2016, Akufo-Addo won in the first round with 53.8% of the votes. These slim margins show the outcome would have been either way.

A campaign billboard shows John Dramani Mahama, Ghana’s president and National Democratic Congress (NDC) presidential candidate, and the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) presidential candidate Nana Addo on a street in Accra December 3, 2016. REUTERS/Luc Gnago – RTSUHLE

The 2020 Global Peace Index Report carried out by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) shows that Ghana is the most peaceful country in West Africa and the third on the continent.

In total, twelve candidates will vie for the presidency. For the first time in Ghana’s electoral history, voters can choose between a sitting and a former president. Both major political parties have contested and accepted electoral outcomes and settled their scores within legal means thereby contributing to Ghana’s history of peaceful transitions.

Today’s electoral high is meant to demonstrate the global reputation Ghanaians take pride in. It is meant to show Ghana as a prototype for democratic excellence.  

Now in its eight election cycles, Ghana has a lot of democratic attributes going for it – due to its free and open political space, most electorates express more confidence in the electoral process and have remained genuinely expectant of democratic dividends.

The country’s enviable democratic track record, more issue-focused campaigns, an increasingly professional media, a vibrant civil society, and strong institutions have been contributing to a more informed, perceptive, and engaged citizenry.   

Although the Coronavirus pandemic had impacted election preparations, having registered over 16 million voters through the initial voters’ registration exercise, the Electoral Commission has shown the technical capacity to administer elections. The Electoral Commission’s health and safety protocols for election activities were well adapted by electoral stakeholders, political parties, and civil society.   

As in past election cycles, misinformation, sheer propaganda and viral inflammatory messages disseminated through social media platforms have polarised media and raised the heat and political tensions.  

While Ghana’s democratic credentials are laudable, of concern is the consistently low number of women candidates which falls below global standards.  The emergence of NDC’s vice-presidential candidate Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang as the first woman on a major party’s presidential ticket is laudable. NDC and NPP have fewer women parliamentary candidates for this election compared to 2016. This and other systemic gender barriers may reduce the number of women serving in parliament and women involved in the electoral process and governance.

Young voters between the age of 18-35 make over 59% of the voting populace, records show that high unemployment rates among this demography leaves young people vulnerable to be mobilised for violence by political gladiators and recruitment by vigilante groups.

It is the reason why unemployment and the management of the economy remain the two most crucial kernel to crack in the mouths of political gladiators seeking office. NPP’s thumpers point at positive economic indicators like reduced inflation, remarkable GDP growth figures and a reduced government deficit. The opposition rails the ruling party on the dissatisfaction with personal living conditions, high youth unemployment and a widening income gap.

Although Akufo-Addo’s outright victory in 2016 was partly attributed to voter discontent over an economic slowdown, forecast for the 2020 election result is one wherein the ruling NPP may retain the presidency with a reduced majority in parliament due to the infighting amongst congressional aspirants.

Issues around ‘corruption’ remain increasingly contentious in its polity and played a big role in the 2016 election. The Global corruption perception index which held Ghana at 70 in 2016, has now deteriorated to 80 in 2020. President Akufo-Addo campaigned strongly on the promise of fighting corruption.

NPP which had accused Mahama of corruption and mismanagement appointed Attorney General Martin Amidu as special prosecutor on corruption cases. Amidu resigned some months ago amid controversy. He is now a leading member of Mahama’s NDC. Last month he accused Akufo-Addo of corruption.  

If Voter turnout comes falls between 60%- 65% which is slightly less than December 2016’s polls estimate of 69.25%, then this election is Akufo-Addo’s to lose.

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