Retribution Strategy, Genuine Coincidence or Distractions? Akufo-Addo and Mahama’s Schadenfreude
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Electoral politics are at the heart of modern liberal democracy. They form an objective basis for ensuring leadership continuity, political authority and legitimacy. Elections have facilitated transitions from authoritarian, kleptocratic and dynastic regimes to more democratic transformations in Southern and Eastern Europe, most of Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. The failure of elections tends to amplify political, religious and ethnic apprehensions, and in some cases translates into revolutionary or military interventions with devastating consequences. Countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe and Cote d’Ivoire have witnessed the massacre of over 4000 civilians and hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced.

Ghanaians have come to embrace the outcome of elections as a shared idealism reflecting the collective will of the people. While questions of inappropriateness, mistrusts and tensions have punctuated appointments of members of the electoral commission, organizational logistics and processes of conducting elections, Ghanaians have always sleepwalked over the election cliff and dramas that beset nations—by conducting their political society with reason, sense of justice and moderation to set its neighbours, near and distant, big and small, a good example.

In so doing, civil processes have always been the arbiter of resolving pre-and post-election grievances between the two dominant political parties—the centre-left National Democratic Congress (NDC) and centre-right New Patriotic Party (NPP). The novel 2013 presidential election petition and signing of the 3rd High-Level Presidential Election Peace Pact  between president elect Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo and his predecessor John Dramani Mahama are symbolic moments in Ghana’s history, and quintessential orchestrations that reinforce Ghana’s democratic virtues. Ghana’s electoral democracy rises above a whisper on the African continent. It is not just a noble story that has seen power oscillated between the two parties in eight (8) elections cycle since 1992 but Ghana’s electoral polity emerges as a model of calm “common sense” in a politically fickle region where post-colonial leaders are fetishistically fighting tooth and nail to become president for life

A Repeat of Democratic Dilemma

In what would become a flashback of democratic dilemma, Ghana’s political future is once again set to be determined by the gavel after former President Mahama filed a petition in Ghana’s Supreme Court to challenge the electoral commission’s declaration of Akufo-Addo as president-elect for a second term. As former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher puts it, “there is no alternative” to resolving election inappropriateness than using the court architecture. Investing in the courts—rather than establishing a parallel government or dishonourably burning tires in the streets to impede the flow of economic activity—is a test of NDC’s devotion to their social democratic ethos and the country’s constitution, especially in a period of global democratic recession. It remains to be seen what shoe-leather evidence the NDC will present to the court to substantiate their rigging claims in hopes of undoing what’s been done.

A picture containing the Supreme Court of Ghana/Credit: Pulse Ghana

Political Convergence or Political Sin?

While not downplaying the NDC’s claims of vote-rigging and state manipulation of the Dec.7, 2020 elections the backend question hinges on whether or not allegations of impropriety could be a revenge strategy, genuine coincidence or sheer obstructionism being appropriated by Mr. Mahama to force a sense of illegitimacy—in the minds of his supporters—that Akufo-Addo is riding on a stolen verdict. I think there is an interplay of the three social forces that could serve to prod John Mahama’s political image. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no way romanticizing inexcusable electoral malfeasance that is commonly dotted in many places around the world. The benefit of seeking justice to protect the will of the people and ensuring the integrity of election processes tramp any dividends that may accrue to a “flawed” election. I’m merely making the point that it is hard not to see beyond what appears to be an alternative reality and a conventional wisdom of a politician seeking to become the imperial preference of a political party.

If you think about it there is no superior example of political convergence among the political class than to call political outcomes that they support democracy and the ones they do not “rigged”, making voters all too willing to accept nice soundbites that are intended to influence the argument in favour of or against what they believe to be democracy. President Trump’s assertions of voter fraud—in the Nov. 3, 2020 US elections—without providing evidence have proven over the period to be laughable at best and insulting at worst. Indeed, his claims constitute not only an example of a political sin that has been made the default rationalization of electoral defeat but a strategy to reaffirm political dominance. The rebellion against US congress and attempts to overturn Joe Biden as President-elect is a dent on America’s democracy.

While attempts to align the rough edges in post-election reviews—including a supreme court action—could lead to policy, law and institutional mutations, Mr. Mahama’s revelations in a  speech that “I want, perhaps, the very same thing that my opponent wanted when in 2012 he challenged the results of that election…”encapsulates conventional depictions of political retribution and distraction manifestly observable in patrimonial societies. Going to court over what seems “accidental difficulties” could be a lofty political ideal to avenge the “sour” embryo left by the NPP in the 2013 election petition in which then candidate Akufo-Addo made statutory violations the primary basis for a supreme court action.

Putting the Akufo-Addo’s government in a similar purified “punishment” circumstance implies that the NDC now has the NPP’s windpipe and depending on how it plays out in court Mr. Mahama could profit from implicit local sympathy and international solidarity as a victim of electoral maladministration. Based on his own words, it is fair to say that Mr. Mahama’s characterizations of the results as “fictionalized” equates to a pretentious charade and political project to engage in a candidate-promotion tour ahead of any future national elections. 

In this connection, holding on to claims of election irregularities could serve as a proxy to fortify Mr. Mahama’s grip and position him as the de facto leader of the NDC. Indeed, he constitutes not only the pull within his party but also represents a formidable psychological armament against any future contender for the NDC’s leadership. His command over the party as the logical successor is further solidified with the passing of NDC’s founder—ex-president Jerry-John Rawlings—whose mercurial disposition towards the NDC and ardent political flirtations with Akufo-Addo posed a threat to Mr. Mahama’s election numbers.

While the NPP establishment is treating allegations of “vote rigging” as pettifogging designed to cast a grim outlook of Ghana’s electoral system, president Akufo-Addo will not only have to confront the ghost of being the beneficiary of a “rigged” outcome, but could face an unspoken stigmatization among NDC supporters whether NDC wins their case or the petition ends in a fiasco—both plausible outcomes are weightier and mutually reinforcing.

In some cases, election petition tends to bring finality to post-election difficulties and assure the investor community of a country’s commitment to the rule of law, at the same time post-election overhang issues could harm investor confidence regarding the outcome of a petition as capital relies on predictability. The central issue being the need to minimize improbability in the minds of investors by maintaining law and order and protecting property otherwise investors do not consider such states reliable.

Schadenfreude is a German expression denoting the gratification someone derives from the misfortune of another. Could the 42 days intricate Supreme Court process triggered by the NDC be described as schadenfreude? The word is appropriate for the two political parties as the record draws an easy straight line to the orientation of former president Mahama and president-elect Akufo-Addo.

The political risks associated with weaponizing and mischaracterizing election results over “inadvertent hitches” could spiral into implicit psychological resentment against political authority in societies with weak legal enforcements, increase divisions and tensions between the “winners” and “losers”. Indeed, such form of political frame could intensify the “tyranny of the majority”, firm up the culture of meritocracy and generate hubris among the “winners” in the allocation of income, wealth and power.

Post-election renewal

Ghana’s path to prominence is not only measured by means of addressing pre-and post-election entanglements—but also recognizing that building a modern state demands resolving knottier problems including efficient administration of elections, robust civil society and public service, free media and impartial judiciary to advance the aspirations of the Ghanaian people. While shareholders including the African Union Election Observer Mission, European Union Observer Mission, local media and independent election observers described the polls as free, peaceful and successful, the loss of lives and destruction of properties in post-election events are incompatible with democracy.

This blog is primarily explanatory containing assumptions and ideas about Ghana’s electoral democracy. It is a fusion between a contemporary paper, academic picture and theories about elections. The views expressed in the blog post are entirely mine and do not reflect the position of Aegis Council for Policy Research & Innovation and its affiliates.

Daniel Asare is a public policy and political risk analyst, an international development specialist and president of Aegis Council for Policy Research & Innovation, a non-profit think tank.

To contact Daniel Asare about what you think about this article. Here is his email:    

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