By Sampson Kwarkye and Paul Nana Kwabena Aborampah Mensah
On 4 March, Ghana’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled to uphold the second term victory of President Nana Akufo-Addo in the 7 December 2020 general elections. Akufo-Addo’s opponent and immediate past predecessor John Dramani Mahama, who had challenged the results in court and argued for a rerun, criticised the decision.
He and his main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, said the presidential and parliamentary results were rigged for Akufo-Addo and the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP). They accused Ghana’s Electoral Commission of bias and incompetence.
The situation sets the stage for possible paralysis in government decision making in Parliament. It also raises the risk of more inter-party acrimony that could provoke violence before and after the 2024 elections in which Mahama may run.
In the short term, the Akufo-Addo government won’t have the numbers to pass its legislative agenda. The NPP and the NDC each hold 137 of the 275 seats in Parliament, with the remaining one held by independent Andrew Asiamah Amoako of the Fomena constituency. The NPP expelled Amoako following a controversial party primary and his decision to run as an independent.
Ghana operates a semi-parliamentary system that obligates presidents to appoint the majority of ministers from Parliament. This approach means the government will need the NDC’s support in approving bills because Members of Parliament (MPs) who double as ministers are often not present to vote due to their ministerial duties.
Experts interviewed by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said this could constrain governance if the NDC decides to obstruct government business in the chamber. The opposition party may use this strategy to frustrate the NPP and score political points ahead of the 2024 elections. Inter-party relations are already bitter, as was displayed during the chaotic election of a new Speaker on 7 January when MPs from both sides openly brawled with each other.
Some NDC MPs and senior figures have hinted that Parliament will not readily approve bills and agreements submitted by the executive. Haruna Iddrisu, NDC Parliamentary leader, has warned that the party’s MPs, who occupy 13 out of the 26 seats on the chamber’s vetting committee, won’t approve more than 70 ministers and deputies. Akufo-Addo has indicated that up to 85 are to be appointed.
On 1 March, all NDC members on the committee voted to reject Akufo-Addo’s nominees for the agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, and information ministers on the grounds of dishonesty during their vetting. The three nominees were ultimately approved by the parliamentary plenary after more than 20 NDC MPs voted with their NPP colleagues.
The vote drew fiery criticism from the NDC’s communications officer and many of the party’s supporters who accused their MPs and the party leadership of betraying a collective cause. This reaction and the call for a leadership change will probably make the NDC cautious in its engagement with the government, experts told ISS Today.
Nonetheless, the hung Parliament presents opportunities for better governance and accountability through oversight over the executive. It’s a departure from the past seven Parliaments in Ghana’s Fourth Republic (1992 to date), in which governing parties had comfortable majorities, and the executive always had its way. These were, according to experts, ‘rubber-stamp’ Parliaments, especially as many MPs were part of the executive as ministers and seldom challenged bills and agreements.
For the next four years, the government will try to avoid criticism by being more diligent and thorough in presenting budget statements and other vital documents for debate.
Meanwhile, although the Supreme Court’s ruling hasn’t revived the violent protests that followed the election, the NDC may take a firm position in the next polls. Ghana has a competitive winner-takes-all electoral system. Both the NPP and NDC have mobilised political vigilante groups to attack and intimidate opponents.
The government outlawed vigilantes in 2019, but experts expressed grave doubts about the political will to enforce the law. They cited the two main parties’ reluctance to sign a code of conduct on peaceful campaigning ahead of the December 2020 elections.
More than a year after the law was passed, the Ministry of Justice hasn’t issued its enforcement guidelines. For opposition parties that feel the courts won’t afford them justice, vigilantes become a reliable source of security during campaigns.
In addition to their distrust of the Electoral Commission, Mahama and the NDC have subtly expressed their lack of confidence in the independence of state security and justice institutions. Among these bodies are the military, the police and the courts.
If these vital institutions lack legitimacy, future election disputes may be settled on the street rather than in the courts. The 2024 election will be crucial for the opposition, as observers note that a third consecutive loss would seriously demoralise the party and deepen factional divides.
Akufo-Addo should adopt a consensus-building approach to governance and ensure opposition views are considered, especially on crucial laws. The Electoral Commission needs to strengthen the Inter-Party Advisory Committee as a platform for consensus and trust building around election preparations.
The National Peace Council, which facilitated the signing of the peace accord by Akufo-Addo and Mahama on 4 December 2020, should work with both sides to defuse election-related tensions. – ISS Today
Sampson Kwarkye, Senior Researcher, ISS Dakar and Paul Nana Kwabena Aborampah Mensah, Team Leader, Ghana Center for Democratic Development.