Opposition candidate John Atta-Mills Monday maintained a slim lead over the ruling party’s Nana Akufo-Addo in Ghanaian presidential elections seen as a test of its democratic credentials.
I suppose every election in any democracy is, in a sense, a test of the country’s democratic credentials. Ghana, by the usual standards used by political scientists, has had pretty good credentials throughout this decade. That’s not a long time, to be sure, but Ghana has scored at V or better on the Polity index since 2001.
The current president, John Agyekum Kufuor, was elected to his first term in December, 2000. The Statesman’s Yearbook referred to this as “the first time in African history that power was transferred from a Marxist to a free-market liberal.” Kufuor was reelected in 2004. The constitution limits the president to two 4-year terms.
The news item linked above indicates that one report shows Atta-Mills with 50.43% and another says he is leading with 51.05%.
Ghana is one of only four African countries that are both democratic and purely presidential–that is, where the president is elected separately from the legislature and is the head of government as well as head of state. On the list I use in ongoing research, the only other African presidential democracies are Benin, Malawi, and Zambia.
Sunday’s election was a runoff. Ghana has almost a two-party system, yet runoffs were required in 2000 as well as 2008. In the first round in 2000 as in this month’s first round, the two leading candidates have combined for over 90% of the vote. When reelected in 2004, Kufuor defeated Atta-Mills, 53.4% to 43.8%.
In the 2000 and 2004 elections, Atta-Mills seemed stuck in the 43-44 range. Even that was better than his NDC party managed in legislative elections.
Atta-Mills won 44.8% in the first round in 2000, finishing about 4 percentage points behind Kufuor. In the runoff that year he actually fell to 43.3% (in a slightly lower turnout). However, no longer facing Kufuor, Atta-Mills managed a bare plurality in this month’s first round, with he and Akufo-Addo each just barely over 48% of the vote, but Akufo-Addo in the lead.
Congressional elections are held concurrently with the first round of the presidential election, and the NDC underperformed Atta-Mills’s personal performance as a presidential candidate in 2000 and 2004. In 2000 it won 41.2% of the vote and 92 of the 200 seats (against 99 for the NPP on just under 45% of votes). In 2004 the NDC won 94 of 230 seats (against 128 for the ruling party); votes totals are evidently not available for that election, and I have not seen any detailed results for this year’s legislative elections, but the last-linked item suggests the NDC may have won a narrow majority of seats. (I believe the congressional elections are by FPTP, and the results suggest a strong regional variation in party support.)
The two-party dominance of these elections would lead me to wonder if Ghana would be better served by plurality election of the president.1 However, in this election, had the result been the same under plurality (a strong condition, especially given the closeness), Ghana evidently would have wound up with divided government. Now that would be a real test for a fledgling presidential democracy. As it is, unless the final results of the runoff put Akufo-Addo back ahead, Ghana seems to have narrowly averted divided government, while achieving partisan alternation.
1. How about the double complement rule?