It is a truism that in partisan politics, every political party has its strongholds in the country as a result of the perennial show of support for it by the electorate in specific constituencies. The voting pattern in the country since multi-party democracy was introduced confirms that certain parties can rely on voters in certain parts of the country to garner support to the disadvantage of their rivals. And the leadership of such parties openly boast of such strongholds.
In the 4th Republic, particularly, we’ve seen how the NDC and NPP have bragged about their strongholds and done everything possible to retain their grips on those areas. What we saw under Rawlings and Kufuor—which was reinforced at the 2008 elections—confirms this state of affairs. The NPP claims to have the Ashanti and Eastern Regions as its reservoir while the NDC looks up to the Volta Region to sweep votes.
The truth is that the voter population in the Eastern Region is more than that of the Volta Region. That of the Ashanti Region is the biggest in the country, which means that even if the NDC sweeps all the votes in the Volta Region, it won’t be anywhere near the tally for either the Eastern or Ashanti Region. So, why is the NDC stuck on the Volta Region?
What benefit will it get even if it wins all the 19 constituencies while the NPP clears those of the Ashanti Region (33 in all)? Or even if the NDC retains its current Parliamentary seats in those Regions? Not much, I daresay. The only benefit is that the NDC will continue to enjoy the bragging right to claim the Volta Region as its stronghold.
Obviously, then, we may claim that the voting pattern in the 2012 elections will likely follow the status quo. It is inexplicable why voters in these parties’ strongholds will remain unmoved in their loyalty. Can that be explained away with any other factor beyond the ethnicity theory?
After all, President Mills is not an Ewe, though there is a mistaken perception that because the founder and father of the NDC (Jerry Rawlings) is an Ewe and the NDC has over years had a huge support from the Volta Region, then, the party is Ewe-dominated. Why is the Volta Region, then, the NPP’s Waterloo?
Whatever the rationale behind the voting pattern may be, the ongoing show of anger at the incumbent for its inability to fulfill its electioneering campaign promises or for what its political opponents describe as “incompetence,” seems to be laying the foundation for surprises. A wave of disaffection seems to be blowing all over the country that may drastically influence voters’ decisions. Unless I am mistaken, I can say guardedly that this wave of disaffection portends something to enthuse over.
Although ethnicity will still remain a major consideration in the voters’ behaviour and political decision making, other factors will bear heavily on the 2012 polls. We must expect surprises.
Support for the party may be generated by several factors that aren’t difficult to fathom. All over the world, the most prominent factor is likely to be the calibre of the politicians leading the party or the particular manifesto of the party that makes it attractive to the people. In well advanced democracies, the personality of the individuals, especially the Presidential Candidate, also influences the electorate in making their decisions to support or oppose the parties seeking their goodwill.
Tradition also plays a good role. Some electoral areas have stood out as the traditional strongholds of specific parties, as is evident in the US, for instance; but may change hands, depending on the mood of the people as they assess the impact of the parties on their lives.
Ethnicity is a major factor that may make or mar political chances. The emergence of Barack Obama in the US has revealed to us the extent to which ethnicity can influence the dynamics of national politics, even in the advanced democracies. Apart from his personal accomplishments and promising leadership qualities, his peculiar African American background played a huge role in the electorate’s attitude toward him.
Undoubtedly, he had a huge favour from sections of the electorate who wanted to see an African American President for the first time in the US’ history. And they went for him to make that wish come true. No one fought anybody over racial differences in politics, although racism is a major problem in the US. In other countries too, ethnicity ranks high on the political menu but it fades to the background for national politics to be shaped by issues crucial to national development efforts.
In less advanced democracies, ethnicity is so pronounced in politics that it overshadows other factors—particularly those dealing with hardnosed economic realities—that should be the basis for voting. Such factors, not ethnicity, determine where the voters’ allegiance lies. Not in our case, where voters’ allegiance is mostly devoid of issues. And it is synonymous to such negative tendencies as nepotism, ethnocentricism, and prejudicial name-calling provocations that ultimately trigger political violence if not managed properly.
As we prepare for the 2012 elections, several utterances have come from NPP organizers in the Volta Region to suggest that the fate of the Danquah-Busia family will change for the better. That optimism may be dismissed by some political opponents as one of the usual pre-election boasts which easily evaporate when the elections are over. We’ve heard a lot more than those claims to be wary of what we continue to hear from the NPP camp.
Claiming that voters in the Volta Region are disillusioned and embittered at the failure of the Mills government to fulfill its electioneering campaign promises and using that disillusionment and embitterment as the basis for their optimism, these NPP activists are quick to suggest that the NPP is making serious incursions into the NDC’s stronghold and will reduce its “World Bank” to a “Rural Bank” status, come election time next year. It all lies in the womb of time.
But even before we decide to wait for that womb to burst, we can piece together happenings all over the country to predict that the 2012 elections will certainly produce results that have the potential to point us in new directions as far as party loyalty or voter decisions are concerned.
Although it may be too early for the NPP to begin celebrating this open expression of such sentiments as a new lap on its political campaign stunts to improve its political fortunes in the Volta Region, it does suggest that the Volta Region is taking drastic steps to position itself as a force to reckon with in national politics.
It may not want to continue to be labelled an NDC stronghold just for its own sake but to reap the benefits therefrom. So far, it doesn’t seem to be the case, and the chiefs have taken the lead in this teeth-baring game to forewarn the NDC and its government. If others elsewhere can toe this line, we should be seeing new things happening on the political landscape.
The NPP activists may latch on to opportunities provided by such sentiments but need to know that a rejection of the NDC will not necessarily translate into support for their party unless the electorate can see a marked difference between its agenda for national development and what they are unhappy with. So far, the NPP’s leading campaigners’ message entails more promise-making than anything new to instill hope in the people.
More importantly, those in the Volta Region who continue to view the NPP through the lens provided by the Kufuor administration will be difficult to persuade. Akufo-Addo was part of that government and will certainly not escape any blame they have for Kufuor. In the end, the current happenings suggest that the political race is wide open. It’s up to the runners to prove their worth and win the prize. I don’t care who wins the elections for as long as better strategies for national development will be enunciated and implemented to relieve the people of the burden that they’ve been forced to carry all these years despite the over-abundance of human and natural resources in the country.
Whoever has the acumen to lead the country out of the woods should be supported to do so. That is why no political party should be allowed to claim any part of the landscape as its stronghold. Political fortunes must be tied to performance, not mere ethnic sentiments or wayward considerations bordering on pettiness that have always given us incompetent leaders whose tenure produces nothing but excruciating poverty and a hell-on-earth for Ghanaians.
No political party should fear any part of the country, and voters must be bold to make decisions to serve wider national interests. That is how to nurture our democracy for it to serve its purposes.
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor