The Monetisation of Electoral Process in Ghana: The Stakes and The Costs

The New Patriotic Party (NPP), the political party that currently holds political power in Ghana, recently held a fiercely contested primary elections to elect new parliamentary candidates for the December General Elections this year. The aftermath of the elections surprisingly unearthed disturbing developments that may perpetually mar the fine picture of Ghana’s body political and maturing democracy.

The electioneering campaign leading to the primary elections was, unfortunately, thoroughly characterised by, what I call, elaborate “monetary electoral pageantrism”, where contestants blatantly dole out freebies, bundles of monies, among others, to the so-called delegates who represent, in almost all cases, less than one percent of the total number of registered voters in each of the 275 constituencies. At first many political pundits and social commentators ignored the unintended consequences of this unfortunate development. However, the results of the elections have awoken the masses to the bitter truth: that charlatans are just about taking, or have taken, hold of Ghana’s democracy.

The election results pointed to a very disturbing conclusion that those who spent the most on delegates won the elections in their respective constituencies. The results also sent unguarded shocks to the spines of about forty sitting MPs who unfortunately lost their sugary seats. Most of these forty MPs who surprisingly lost their seats occupy various high political echelons in parliament including chairmen of such committees Finance, Education, Legal, Communication, Trade, Youth and Sports, among others. Most of these losers (used advisedly) have barely spent a term in parliament. But they would equally be replaced by another set of young aspirants who are uniformly naïve thanks to political monetarism.

Commenting on the unfortunate development, the majority leader of Ghana’s parliament, Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu, who contested unopposed in his constituency and has been in parliament for over two decades now, lamented that the unfortunate incidence is worrying because one or two terms are not enough for fledgling MPs to build envious reputations.

But vote-buying, as it is called in local parlance, is not something new. It is practiced by virtually all the political parties in the country, most notably the two main political parties, the NDC and the NPP. Although it is evident in all forms of elections, it is quite more common in primary elections since only party delegates – a handful of the electorates – have the privilege to elect the parliamentary candidates. This obviously makes it easier for cunning contestants to “buy” the voters.

Indeed, the monetisation of the political atmosphere spews grave consequences for Ghana’s inchoate, nascent democratic struggles. In other words, the unparalleled democratic credentials Ghana has acquired over the years are at stake. Although it is completely far from wrong to brutally oust non-performing political office occupants regardless of their terms in office, the electoral space must never be relaxed to install in, and grace, money-brandishing aspirants who boast of buying the electorates. Non-performing MPs and Presidents must be replaced by better ones, not riches. It is about time the delegates and/or electorates voted based on concrete policy proposals and recommendations rather than on the mantra of “who pays best”. Electorates must also learn that the development of their communities is at stake if only the highest “bidders” are elected to political positions. Economics 101 teaches that every human is a self-seeking being. Hence, political aspirants, no matter how altruistic they might appear in public, would definitely try to recoup all the monies they expended on their political campaigns even at the expense of community development. There is always no free lunch, anywhere.

The costs of monetary electoral pageantrism are also great. To begin with, it ruthlessly raises the transaction costs of elections to an extent that those that are able to enter into politics and undertake active, nonstop political campaigns are people of the upper class. This makes it difficult for the less privileged, especially women and the disabled, to take active part in the electoral process. It also helps to perpetuate the social, political and economic gap between various societal stratifications for it insidiously paves the frontier for the rich to continue to govern and for the middle and lower classes to be helplessly governed. A completely monetised electoral process also clears the way for charlatans to come to power. Murat Ildan, a famous Turkish writer, indicated that when half-witted societies are faced with charlatans in an election, the charlatans come to power. When the political space is inundated by wilful charlatans, the not-too-clever masses, driven by lies, unfounded campaign promises and self-satisfaction, tend to vote for deception and populism rather competence and workable policies. What the society gets in return is a piece of nothing.  

It must however be urgently noted that elections are expensive endeavours and politicians do need considerable amount of money to go through the hectic, extravagant campaign trails to engage with, and appeal to, the teaming voters. Nevertheless, money must decisively not be the determining factor of electoral outcomes. Such outcomes must surely be determined by policies and ideas – workable policies and ideas, not fantasies.

There are a few way forwards. First of all, it is a matter of enforcing the laws. It is not only the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana that frowns on vote-buying, but also the constitutions of all the political parties, in one way or another, forbid party members from using gifts, monies and other dubious advances to influence the decision of voters in an election. What is lacking is an effective enforcement mechanism to tackle this menace before it gets hold of the entirety of Ghana’s body politics.

Some MPs, from both the opposition and ruling parties who have unfortunately lost their seats in consequence of this experiment, have suggested the further democratisation of the primary elections. The argument is that the current delegate system is not too democratic as it allows only a few to select parliamentary candidates. In most cases the selected few (the delegates) select the worse candidates, leaving the public a range of worse alternatives to choose from in a general election. When the space is widen it would be necessarily difficult for political office contestants to lavish gifts and monies on voters to influence their votes. In this case voters’ decision will, arguably, be influenced by candidates’ performance, concrete ideas and policies. The downside of this alternative is that it is expensive and parties will struggle to sponsor it by the skin of their teeth. In any case, it seems a promising alternative and will be accustomed to once it is started.

In the end the coup de grâce rests on the public – the voters who will decide on which political spectrum they want to align themselves. Politics, by its very nature, is fraught with trickery, utopian promises and fantasies. But smart voters will surely be able to differentiate apples from oranges. Good citizens know why they vote and what they want, and they will not trade their goodwill for incentives that seek to reconfigure their sound judgement. Even “good incentives are no substitute for good citizens.” Samuel Bowles

By Iddrisu Kambala Mohammed

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