The Third Peaceful Transfer of Power and Democratic Consolidation in Ghana.

Author:Graham, Emmanuel


Ghana is seen as a model of democracy in Africa (Ayee, 1997; Gyimah-Boadi, 2001; Daddieh, 2009; Abdulai & Crawford, 2010; Gyimah-Boadi & Prempeh, 2012; Gyimah-Boadi, 2015). In this regard, many democracy watchers across the globe were not surprised when the 2016 General Elections ended peacefully. The incumbent government that lost the elections (2) handed over power peacefully to the leader of the main opposition party. This marked the third smooth transfer of power from a ruling party to the opposition in a manner that demonstrates some determination on the part of Ghanaians to climb higher the ladder of democratic progression. (3)

Earlier works on elections, democracy and democratic consolidation in Ghana like that of Gyimah-Boadi (1991) discussed Ghana's transition to constitutional rule. Other scholars such as Ayee, (1997); Ayee, (2002); Smith, 2002b; Daddieh, 2009; Gyimah-Boadi, 2001, 2009; Alidu, 2014) have also examined the 1996, 2000, 2008 and 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections respectively. Some other works have also highlighted the role of the Ghanaian media, civil society and state institutions in Ghana's drive towards democratic consolidation (Whitfield, 2003; Arthur, 2010; Gyampo & Asare, 2015). A few others have also focused on the role of third parties and their abysmal electoral performance in Ghana since 1992 and its implication for multiparty democracy in Ghana (Yobo & Gyampo, 2015). More so, some other scholarly works have looked at ethnicity and electoral politics in Ghana and highlighted its positives and dangers to Ghana' fledgling democracy (Frempong 2001, 2004, 2006; Arthur, 2009).

Clearly, Ghana's thriving democracy has received considerable scholarly attention (Abdulai & Crawford, 2010; Agyeman-Duah, 2005; Arthur, 2010; Ayee, 2011; Ayee, 1997, 1998, 2002; Boafo-Arthur, 2006; Bob-Milliar, 2012a; Brierley & Ofosu, 2014; Daddieh, 2009; Debrah, 2016; Gyampo & Asare, 2015; Gyimah-Boadi, 2009; Oquaye, 1995; Smith, 2002; Yobo & Gyampo, 2015). However, not much has been discussed on its recent third turnover of political power which occurred on 7 January 2017. This is a significant and topical phenomenon which deserves scholarly attention. This paper therefore contributes to the body of knowledge by examining the extent to which Ghana's democracy has been consolidated after a third peaceful transfer of political power. It does so within the framework of the minimalist and the maximalist conceptualization of democratic consolidation (Linz 1990; Huntington, 1991a, Huntington, 1991b; Beetham 1994; Diamond 1997). In terms of structure, the paper theorizes democratic consolidation; examines the practical extent of democratic consolidation in Ghana since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1992; and draws some useful conclusions.

Theorizing Democratic Consolidation

There emerged a strong authoritarian tendency, a decade after the 1960s when many countries in Africa obtained independence from colonial rule. The nationalist movements that led many African states to independence quickly moved to undermine or abolish opposition parties. These ruling groups had the resources to co-opt opponents to extend and consolidate their support base (Sandbrook, 2000, p. 16). As a result, democracy was in short supply in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa where out of forty-seven countries only three - Mauritius, Botswana and Gambia - retained multiparty democracy for twenty years or more. Nonetheless, circumstances changed globally in the 1980s, with many economic hardships in these countries, which discredited authoritarian regimes. This gave birth to the democratic wave in the 1990s forcing the authoritarian regimes to embrace democracy. This is what Huntington, (1991b, 1991a) referred to as the "third wave of democratisation."

The concepts of democracy, democratisation and democratic consolidation defy a universally accepted definition. A democracy is seen as a compound of institutions of modern state and institutions of mass participation and representation with guaranteed freedoms (Rose & Shin, 2001, p. 333). To Huntington, (1991a, 1991b) democracy is a political system where virtually all adult population of sound mind are enfranchised to select their leaders through fair, honest and periodic elections (Huntington, 1991b, pp. 8-9).

It has been argued that Ghana has made giant strides towards democratic consolidation after successfully holding seven General Elections since 1992 and undergoing political transfer of power for three consecutive times. But, what is democratic consolidation? Does the Ghanaian situation necessarily epitomize democratic consolidation? The literature on democratic consolidation is mainly between two schools of thought. They are the minimalists and the maximalists' perspectives. Minimalists such as Linz (1990) argue that democracy is consolidated when there is the 'two-elections' test or the 'transfer of power' test. (4) This occurs when a government that was elected in free and fair elections, contests and is defeated at subsequent elections and accepts the results. In this view, it is not about winning office but losing it and accepting the verdict. This demonstrates that influential players and their social backers are ready and have respect for the rules of the game over the continuation of their power (ibid). This, according to Beetham (1994) is problematic since it is possible to have an electoral system that meets certain minimum democratic standards, but where such a transfer of power may simply not take place, because the electorate may keep voting for the same party as occurred in Botswana since independence, Japan and Italy for over fifty years (Beetham, 1994, p. 130). In this regard, some have argued that a democracy could be described as consolidated when there is simply longevity or generation test of twenty years of regular competitive elections. But, this position is also challenged on grounds that it could also lead to a long term serving party, with no change in government, and no experience in power transfer (ibid).

Another minimalist, Huntington, (1991b, 1991a) argues further that democracy is consolidated after 'two-turnover test.' To him, it is not just two elections but two-turn overs. Democracy, according to him is consolidated when a party that wins an election, loses and transfer power to another party that also loses an election and hand over power peacefully after an election. However, the minimalist scholars such as Dahl (1971), Schumpeter, (1976), Linz (1990), Huntington (1991b, 1991a) have been criticized by maximalists for committing the fallacy of electoralism (Karl, 2000), by "privileging elections over all other dimensions of democracy" (cited in Rose & Shin, 2001, p. 334). Maximalists like Beetham (1994) and Diamond (1997, 1999) suggests that for a democracy to be consolidated there must be certain features or conditions in place beyond elections and turnover of power. Diamond (1997, 1999) for instance, suggests that democratic consolidation encompasses the respect and protection of individuals and group liberties with an autonomous vibrant civil society. In his view, free and fair elections are needed but require certain political right of expression, organisations, and opposition, which are not in isolation. Consolidating democracy also requires the availability of mechanisms for the expression of dissent, articulation of interests, influencing of public policy and checking the exercise of power in the inter-election period. (Diamond, 1999).

Though the maximalists perspective have also been critiqued for extending the definition of democratic consolidation to encompass all the features needed to improve the overall quality of democracy (Linz & Stepan, 1996), it is from Diamond's (1997, 1999) conceptualization of democratic consolidation that this paper seeks to assess the progress and challenges to democratic consolidation in Ghana after a peaceful third turnover and peaceful transfer of political power in January 2017.

In Africa, Gyimah-Boadi (2015, p. 101) has observed that whereas some countries have in recent times incorporated democratic features such as the conduct of elections; the acceptance of constitutional norms; the emergence of free media; and an active civil society democracy continues to wane in some part of the continent. According to him, in some instances, African democratic growth has been slow, some have stalled in progress, and others have been backsliding (ibid).

Remarkably, Ghana appears to be doing well than many African countries after having exercise democracy for over twenty-four years. In this regard, can it be said that Ghana's democracy has been consolidated after three turnovers and peaceful transfer of power from the minimalists' and maximalists' perspective? The following section answers these questions.

Democratic Consolidation in Ghana's Fourth Republic

Minimalists' Perspective

Undisputedly, Ghana passed Samuel Huntington's two turnover test to democratic consolidation when political power alternated between the NDC and the NPP in 2001, 2009 and 2017 (Diamond, 1999; Huntington, 1991b, 1991a). The first peaceful transfer of power was in January 2001 after the 2000 General Election. In the 2000 election, incumbent Jerry John Rawlings, under the auspices of the NDC, had served his mandated two terms and was not eligible to seek re-election according to the constitutional provision. Consequently, a former vice president, J.E.A. Mills who became the NDC presidential nominee for the December 2000 polls lost to John Kufuor of the opposition NPP after a runoff presidential election on 28 December 2000. This occurred when no candidate secured the constitutionally 50 percent plus one vote in the 7 December 2000 polls (Yobo & Gyampo, 2015).

Subsequently, the John Kufuor -led government of the NPP, just like Rawlings' NDC, served two terms having won the next presidential...

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