The Cable

Has Ghana’s Electoral Commission Undermined Its Own Elections?

Some watching West Africa are worried about Ghana's presidential elections.


Next week, Ghana, a relatively stable West African democracy, heads once again to the polls to elect a president. How have things been going in the lead up to the election? Not well.

This week, Nana Akufo-Addo, leader of the New Patriotic Party and President John Mahama’s main opposition, skipped the only presidential debate (aides apparently said that this was because he decided to keep campaign commitments; he was not, apparently, committed to the debate.) On Thursday, early voting took place, and some names seemed to be missing from the voter register.

On Friday, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace flagged just what to watch for in elections in Ghana. High on the list: Ghana’s Electoral Commission, which was criticized in 2012 for failing to protect the elections from irregularities such as “over voting,” is still a politicized entity, and has been unable to quell concern over the clearly problematic voter register. The New Patriotic Party wants the register overhauled entirely.

Also, the commission got off to a good start by disqualifying 13 of 17 presidential hopefuls over alleged errors in nomination forms in October of this year. Several successfully appealed the decision in court. But this, too, is an issue: Challenges to the Electoral Commission are typically resolved by the judiciary, but that, too, is seen as being politicized.

And, with a fraught economic situation and a historical playbook full of intimidation on both sides, the fear of disturbances haunts the elections, though Carnegie reports that large-scale violence is unlikely. Nevertheless, the country’s police have identified 5,000 potential points at which conflicts could break out.

That makes President Mahama’s latest promise all the more encouraging: He has vowed that there will be no violence, and on Friday, media reported that all of the candidates signed a peace pact, promising to follow the electoral rules and keep the peace for the sake of the country they all hope to rule — which, to be fair, is more than the U.S. president-elect vowed to do.

Photo credit: CRISTINA ALDEHUELA/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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