- Ghana’s Encouraging ElectionsThe Challenges Ahead
The Ghanaian elections of December 1996 raised two sorts of questions. The first were narrow but urgent: Would the electoral process be free, fair, and transparent? Would the outcome be broadly accepted rather than strongly disputed, as it had been in 1992? Happily, the predominant answer to this line of inquiry is yes. The presidential and parliamentary polling of December 7 went ahead peacefully; violence, though widely expected, never materialized. Moreover, the 1996 elections were freer and more transparent than those of 1992.
The second sort of questions are broader and harder to answer concisely; they will preoccupy us here. These questions ask whether the elections will advance, delay, or even reverse democratic progress; whether they will weaken or strengthen governmental accountability; whether the entrenched, neopatrimonial “party-state” will flourish or wither; whether the prospects for economic reform and renewal will wax or wane; whether civilian control over the military will grow or shrink; and whether the development of civil society and its participation in the political process will be fostered or not. Our responses to such queries can be at best tentative; they will also require a look at the four years following the return to constitutional rule in 1992.
The elections of 1992, though disputed, ushered in a period of modest but significant gains in democratic governance. These included political liberalization, allowing Ghanaians to enjoy a much wider range of rights and liberties and giving vibrant, privately owned media scope to emerge. The period also saw a modest improvement in governmental transparency and accountability—thanks to the new media as well as to [End Page 78] the resumed publication of the Auditor General’s Reports, the institution of parliamentary debate, and the increasing activism of constitutionally established watchdogs like the Media Commission and the presidentially appointed Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).
Renewed efforts to foster an environment conducive to economic growth and private-sector development also bore fruit. Constitutional provisions protecting private property were generally respected. With one exception, the state refrained from confiscations of private property, and the official commitment to economic renewal remained strong, despite increased popular pressure to reverse some reform measures.
Constitutional rule also opened a larger political space for civil society in Ghana. Civic associations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) proliferated. Many were devoted to the protection of human rights and the promotion of democratic governance. These included the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Ghana Legal Literacy and Resource Foundation, and the Ghana Committee on Human and People’s Rights. Indeed, the years since 1992 have seen many initiatives by Ghanaian society to promote democratic development. Civic groups and public-interest organizations sought to improve the quality of analysis and deliberation in the National Assembly through memoranda and expert testimony, and some even attempted to mediate a dispute between President Jerry Rawlings and his vice-president. These society-based initiatives were not always welcomed by the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), but they bespoke a new level of independent societal involvement in politics.
Such achievements notwithstanding, the hope that 7 January 1993 would mark a fresh start in democratic governance was frustrated in many respects. In fact, Ghana’s latest attempt at democratic governance began on a decidedly inauspicious note and faced a number of critical challenges. In the parliament that emerged from the elections, Rawlings’s NDC and two allied parties held 198 out of 200 seats. Presidential nominees to key posts came under only the most casual legislative scrutiny, and the new government sought to pass illiberal laws.
Relations between the government and the extraparliamentary opposition turned highly acrimonious. Political society became polarized, with the NDC and its supporters at one end, and the older postcolonial elites at the other. The latter elites included figures from both of the two main pre-Rawlings political traditions—the conservative Kofi Busia-J.B. Danquah camp and the left-leaning Nkrumahist tendency—as well as former Rawlings supporters who had left the president’s camp.
Relations between the government and key elements of civil society also reflected mistrust. Consensus remained elusive regarding such key questions as how best to promote...