By Jared Jeffery, Political Analyst, NKC African Economics.
On Saturday, February 23, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) chose former President John Mahama to be its flagbearer in the 2020 presidential election.
According to Myjoyonline the party primary election was the most exhaustive the country has seen, with around 225,000 delegates in 275 constituencies casting their ballots.
So while the decision to grant Mr Mahama, who lost against President Nana Akufo-Addo in 2016 (by 44.4% to 53.9%), the opportunity to have another go may not be wise, it was plainly the will of the party. He reportedly received 95% of the votes cast at the primary.
“Tonight, I want to serve notice to Ghana that from the outcome of this election, the NDC is strong,” Mr Mahama reportedly stated after the results were announced, according to AFP. However, his overwhelming victory says exactly the opposite.
The fact that there is nobody within the NDC ranks that could challenge for the flagbearer role speaks either to a lack of talent within the party, or else dominance of it by Mr Mahama and his backers to a degree that does not allow for lively competition. Neither is a sign of strength.
There may, however, be a third reason.
If we look at the issue from the perspective of an ambitious NDC politician, we can perhaps understand why nobody was very keen to challenge for the flagbearer role.
Mr Akufo-Addo has yet to make a significant misstep since taking the reins in early 2017. Indeed, the economy is on a firmer footing, the free schooling programme has been a hit, the new regions have been created, dumsor (interrupted power supply) is seldom an issue, and there have been relatively few corruption scandals to sully his record.
All-in-all he looks like a shoo-in to get another term (incumbents generally have an advantage in any case). A rational NDC presidential hopeful would have good reason to want to wait out 2020 and plan instead for 2024.
The country, however, needs a strong opposition to keep the government in check and thus some healthy competition in 2020 would have been preferable.
The NDC, we believe, has a ‘Mahama problem’. By this we mean that the tainted legacy of the former president continues to hamstring the party because every time it raises an objection against Mr Akufo-Addo or his ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), the latter is able to point to a worse policy or scandal under Mr Mahama.
This legacy has not faded (or been ‘reframed’) significantly over the past two years, and it is not clear that it will be significantly different by the end of next year.
The presidential election is still well over a year away, and a lot can happen before then to change the prospects of either of the main candidates (there will only be two in the running, and now they are known).
With that said, Mr Akufo-Addo will likely be happy that he is coming up against Mr Mahama as it should be a relatively easy race.
With regard to political risk, this should ensure policy continuity and more long-term thinking, but a lack of opposition strength could affect accountability and the fight against corruption.