12 July 2020 02:15 AM

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SHIV KUNAL VERMA | 12 DECEMBER, 2016

Ghana at Crossroads: Lessons for Indian Voters


GHANA: After nearly 48 hours of high drama and suspense, the Chairperson of Ghana's Electoral Commission, Charlotte Osei, along with her other colleagues, stepped out in front of a beehive of mikes and television cameras and announced that Nana Akufo-Addo had won the Presidential election by a massive million votes and by the powers vested in her, she announced that Akufo-Addo would be the next President of Ghana.

This was Akufo-Addo's third shot at the Presidency. on the morning after the voting, BBC had pointedly asked in its headline story - Third time Lucky? Almost all political pundits and analysts before the election had said it would be a close fight, in which it was predicted that JM (as Mahama is known) would squeak through. However, not only was the ruling NDC's applecart rudely toppled, the margin of victory - nearly 10 per cent - left almost everyone speechless.

Having received an invitation on behalf of the President of Ghana to visit the sub-Saharan country and be a neutral observer of the elections, I was more than happy to travel across two continents to get here. In India we live in a perpetual state of electioneering as we get bombarded on TV screens with some state or the other going to the polls. So much so that it’s a bit like watching a circus with the biggest top coming on every five years when it is time for us to choose our representatives for the Lok Sabha. In my younger days one had covered elections in Bihar and other parts of India, and I thought it would be interesting to see how things were conducted in a country that had a similar history as ours - both having been colonized by the British.

The first thing that struck me on landing at Accra was the absolute lack of election propaganda on the streets. There were a few posters here and there, but by and large everything was extremely low key. And yet, every Ghanaian one met, was deeply involved in the election process. The talk, if you were an NDC supporter, focused on development issues and the need for continuity; or, if you backed Nana Akufo-Addo's NPP, the need for change and corruption at various levels.

While the relatively younger Mahama came across as a stable influence on the country, whose hand at the helm had steadied the ship over the last four years, the 72-year old Akufo-Addo seemed more like a pugnacious boxer who understood the pulse of the electorate. Recent economic measures that collectively tightened the financial belt of the country allowed Afuko-Addo to go in for the kill and he promptly made promises to set up industry in each district and build small dams in every village. This obviously resonated with the electorate, who then voted overwhelmingly in favour of the NPP.

The anti-incumbency factor was always going to be a major factor in the polls. The NDC, which seemed quietly confident of victory before the elections, seems to have failed to counter the aggressive media offensive that seemed to tilt in favour of Akufo-Addo. ‘John Mahama failed to engage the media effectively,’ said a senior NDC strategist even before the voting had begun, ‘the NDC thought doing projects, building infrastructure was enough and the work would speak for itself. This created a vacuum of sorts which was quickly occupied by groups that were not too favourably inclined towards us.’ This anomaly within the media created by the NDC while it was in power over the last eight years would become a major handicap, for as charges of corruption surfaced, there was no effective vehicle to put the ruling party’s point of view across. That these charges stuck despite the fact that there was little proof to back them up, perhaps contributed significantly to the NDCs defeat. Eventually in elections the world over it is a question of perception…

What struck me most during the last few days, was the constant appeal put on television and radio and through hoardings… keep the peace no matter what the provocation, do not get swayed by emotions and ensure that Ghana is the overall winner regardless of who wins or who loses. To that effect, President Mahama conceding defeat and congratulating Akufo-Addo even before the Election Commission had formally announced the results, added considerably to Ghana’s status. John Mahama demits office having technically served only one term. By his conduct yesterday his own stature will probably be that of a senior political statesman. The manner in which the baton passed, certainly allowed Ghana to hold its head high in not just Africa, but also on the International scene.

Just as Ghana could draw lessons from India, our own people could learn a thing or two from the Ghanaians. You do not need to spend millions and millions of rupees to vandalize your own constituencies where posters and flags stay till they rot and fall! Political awareness among the people needs to be based on real issues and not on rhetoric that means nothing either way. Election Promises in India are, well, Election Promises and everyone knows what that means. Above everything else, we as Indians, be it the state elections in UP or in Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra, need to bring into play a certain dignity of conduct. They have certainly set a major benchmark in a national election that was free of violence and was conducted with the utmost grace, despite a few hiccups here and there. India and Indians should really be extremely proud of their brothers in Ghana.

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