As 2008 rolled in, friends around the world were watching the events in Kenya with increasing panic as a disputed election turned into increasingly violent protests, eventually killing over a thousand and displacing hundreds of thousands.
This year, we’re watching elections in Ghana unfold, but there’s surprisingly little panic desite an absurdly close election. In the first round of presidential elections, Nana Akufo-Addo of the ruling NPP held a narrow lead over John Atta Mills of the opposition NDC. (It’s hard for me to call NDC the “opposition”, since I remember almost twenty years of NDC political dominance resulting from a coup.) Neither party gained a majority, so there was a runoff election on the 28th. That election proved even closer, and after 229 of 230 had their votes tallied, the margin was 50.13 – 49.87% in favor of Mills and the NDC.
The constituency that wasn’t counted is Tain, in the Brong-Ahafo region, a largely rural area which had a misvote during the runoff. Insufficient ballot papers were available – some argue that papers were stolen – and the electoral commission decided to hold a revote tomorrow. Because the margin is so small, it’s possible that Tain could swing the election, though it’s unlikely – Tain went for Mills in the first round, and unless there’s a major swing in political will, it looks like Mills and the NDC will win the election and there will be another transfer of power (the legendary “double alternation” of a mature democracy). In the meantime, both parties are relentlessly campaigning in Tain… to the shegrin of Peace Corps volunteer Grant Dobbe who’s twittering from the region and notes “i don’t know what’s worse: an endless string of xmas tunes or an endless string of NPP/NDC campaign tunes…”
It would be wrong to characterize Ghana as calm during this period – people tell me that the situation is quite tense. I’ve been getting texts and phonecalls from friends in Accra telling me that the problems are largely “big men saying stupid things” – i.e., politicians on both sides making accusations of voter fraud. (NPP believes there was fraud in the Volta region, the traditional stronghold of the NDC; NDC argues that there was fraud in the Ashanti region, the stronghold of the NPP.) But this isn’t a story about stolen elections or widespread fraud – it’s about a closely contested election that all observers see as free and fair, while admitting that there have been irregularities. The current dispute is more analagous to vote recounts in Florida or Minnesota than electoral fraud in Zimbabwe or Nigeria.
My favorite bit of evidence that Ghana’s continuing to show the continent and the world how to hold a democratic election: protesters from the ruling NPP were chased off from the Electoral Commission with water cannon. Obviously we’d all be happier if folks weren’t marching with machetes, but the government turning water cannons on its own supporters to quell a possibly violent protest strikes me as a positive sign.
Tain votes tomorrow, and we’ll likely see NDC take power. My guess is that we’ll see court challenges and ongoing dispute, but that the situation will be resolved peacefully. Or as a friend emailing me this morning put it, “Ghana has won”.