Incumbent John Mahama has been elected President of Ghana despite opposition claims of electoral fraud and voting irregularities. The New Patriotic Party’s (NPP) opposition candidate Jake Lamptey is considering legal action to annul the result. It would be unfortunate for the NPP to take such a step. Whilst it is understandable to feel aggrieved when an electoral result is so tight (Mr Mahama won 50.7% of the votes compared to 47.7% for Mr Lamptey), a challenge to the official tally would overshadow Ghana’s positive democratic reputation in a continent renowned for its political authoritarianism.
Before the election, many observers throughout Africa and further afield were expecting a relatively free and fair election. Despite some possible irregularities – which are to be expected in a nation without sophisticated electronic voting and counting systems – this has been achieved. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and local monitoring group Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) have both expressed their belief that the election was free and fair. Additionally, Mr Lamptey has failed to provide sufficient proof to support his allegations of corruption and vote rigging.
This is all good news but is perhaps trumped by one telling statistic. The voter turnout is said to have been around 80%. Such a figure is monumental and attests to the faith placed by the Ghanaian people in the democratic system. Given that the turnout for the US Presidential Election – in a country where democracy is entrenched – in November is thought to have been less than 60%, the turnout in Ghana seems even more impressive. It is not as if Ghana is a tiny nation either. With a population of over 24 million, an 80% turnout is something the country should be proud of.
This democratic election is testimony to the legacy of Jerry Rawlings who, having initially taken power in Ghana via a coup d’etat in 1981, embarked on a programme of economic and political liberalisation that ultimately led to his democratic election in 1992. This is proof that those coming to power via force in Africa can abandon their militarism for democratic reform. Sadly, despite the proliferation of leaders taking the military route to the top, few have followed Rawlings’ example.
Ghana’s 2012 election is a monumental achievement in one of the world’s least democratic regions. Whilst it may not have been flawless, few countries can claim such lofty standards as to boast of a perfect election. Importantly, the Ghanaian people have legitimised the election. With a turnout of 80% they clearly believe in the democracy of their country. The more nations that follow Ghana’s lead, the better it will be for African politics. Hopefully the NPP realises this too.