THE PROVISIONAL NATIONAL DEFENSE COUNCIL
Within thirty-five years of Ghana’s becoming a sovereign state, the country experienced, before its fourth return to multiparty democratic government in January 1993, nine different types of government (three civilian and six military), including a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, a socialist single-party republic, and several military regimes following coups in 1966, 1972, 1979, and 1981.
The new national leadership of postcolonial Ghana inherited state machinery that had evolved under British rule and that emphasized strong centralization of power and top-down decision making. Kwame Nkrumah—prime minister, 1957-60; president, 1960-66- -unsuccessfully attempted to create a socialist economy in the early 1960s, but his effort merely served to compound the inevitable problems and dangers of administrative centralization and state intervention in the economy. These problems, which survived Nkrumah, included political corruption, self-enrichment, misuse of power, lack of public accountability, and economic mismanagement, leading in turn to economic decline and stagnation and to the rapid erosion of political legitimacy and attendant coups d’état. Authoritarian or arbitrary styles of leadership that limited genuine democratic participation and public debate on policy as well as the lack of political vision of successive postcolonial regimes (with the exception of Nkrumah’s) contributed greatly to political instability and to the rapid alternation of civilian and military rule.
One of the changes in government came on June 4, 1979, when a handful of junior officers seized power less than a month before scheduled elections. An Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) was formed with the overriding objectives of ridding Ghana of official corruption, indiscipline in public life, and economic mismanagement before handing over power to a civilian government. A relatively unknown twenty-nine-year-old air force flight lieutenant, Jerry John Rawlings, emerged as the leader of the AFRC. The so-called house-cleaning exercise embarked upon by the AFRC was extended to a variety of civilian economic malpractices such as hoarding, profiteering, and black-marketing.
Parliamentary elections were duly held on June 18, 1979, as planned. A party of the Nkrumahist tradition, the People’s National Party (PNP), won a majority of the parliamentary seats, and its leader, Hilla Limann, became president after a run-off election. On September 24, 1979, the AFRC handed over government to the PNP. At this time, Rawlings warned the PNP government that it was on probation and admonished the incoming officials to put the interest of the people first.
The PNP administration was short-lived. On December 31, 1981, Rawlings returned to office for the second time as head of the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC). He insisted that the 31st December, 1981, Revolution was necessitated, among other factors, by the failure of the PNP administration to provide effective leadership and by the virtual collapse of the national economy and of state services. Upon assuming power, Rawlings immediately declared a “holy war” aimed at restructuring national political institutions, establishing genuine democracy based on Ghanaian ideals and traditions, and rehabilitating the economy.
The Political Scene Under the PNDC
For democracy to function effectively in Ghana, it was necessary to relate Western democratic processes to Ghanaian political traditions. Peter Du Sautoy, a former district commissioner, recalled his attempt to explain British democracy in the country before independence. His audience understood the process of election, but he was asked how one got rid of one’s representative when he no longer seemed to be representative. Du Sautoy explained that one waited until the next election four or five years later. His Ghanaian audience felt that “this was most undemocratic—from time immemorial they had been able to get rid of their chiefs at any tim, when, after mature consideration and discussion, they felt they no longer had confidence in them.”
This observation clearly defines one enduring aspect of the relationship between politics and democracy as understood by the ordinary Ghanaian. It also highlights the significance of indigenous political ideology and attitudes that constitute the core elements of the contemporary Ghanaian political tradition. This political tradition, along with inherited colonial and Christian elements, informs and shapes the institutional pattern of political life. Its basic principles influence disputes and conflicts over the organization, distribution, maintenance, exercise, and transfer of power, and the allocation of economic resources in Ghanaian society.
The published speeches of Rawlings provide evidence of the effective use of symbols and principles drawn from ancestral religious beliefs, Christianity, and chieftaincy. Indeed, Rawlings insisted throughout PNDC rule that the revolution’s main and longterm goal was to create a more just society in which the interests of the majority were not repressed in favor of those of a tiny minority and in which the productivity of all Ghanaians would increase. He saw participatory democracy as the best guarantee of such a society.
The PNDC leadership could scarcely avoid the ideological tension and strife generic to Ghanaian popular movements and massbased political programs. Ironically, the ideological strife that haunted the PNDC leadership was similar to that which wrecked the PNP. In 1980 Limann, PNP leader and president of Ghana, had complained helplessly that the PNP as a mass party spanned the whole range of political ideas. He pointed out that party members included pragmatists, leftists, rightists, and centrists, and he stressed that no national party with a broad social base could escape this mix. The left wing of the PNP—for example, the Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guards—was Limann’s severest critic. Some of the leaders of the same left wing and similar organizations joined the PNDC and attempted unsuccessfully in the early years of the revolutionary period to transform what was clearly a nationalist, popular revolution in the direction of Marxism-Leninism.
In the first year after the 31st December 1981 Revolution, the PNDC regime established new political structures and legal institutions. The new administration rebuilt or reformed much of the pre-existing local, regional, and national administrative machinery of governance in accordance with the avowed goals of the revolution. During the following ten years, many of these new structures of governance and consultation were modified in response to the demands of efficiency, social and economic realities, and internal and external political pressures. A number of these institutional and structural changes were incorporated into the 1992 Constitution of the Fourth Republic.
One such institution was the National Commission for Democracy (NCD), which evolved from the Electoral Commission of the Third Republic. In 1984 the NCD invited the public to submit proposals on the future form of democratic government for the country. In addition, public meetings were held to discuss how to realize true democracy in Ghana. As a result of these and other efforts, the NCD published its “Blue Book” on the creation of district political authority and on holding elections. These efforts culminated in the district elections of 1988 and the subsequent establishment of 110 district assemblies. In July 1990, the NCD initiated more public debates on the future political system of the country. This marked a significant step in the transition to democracy, which ended with the presidential and parliamentary elections in November and December 1992.
By the late 1980s, the PNDC comprised nine members, the most important being Rawlings, the chairman. It was the highest legislative and administrative body of the state. Below the PNDC was the Committee of Secretaries (cabinet), made up of nineteen secretaries (ministers) who met on a weekly basis under the chairmanship of a PNDC member. The most prominent of the secretaries were those in charge of finance and economic planning, foreign affairs, education and culture, local government and rural development, agriculture, health, mobilization and productivity, and chieftaincy affairs.
To lay the foundation for true democracy in Ghana, the PNDC created a controversial countrywide network of People’s Defence Committees (PDCs) and Workers’ Defence Committees (WDCs), reorganized and renamed, in late 1984 as Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs). Established in villages, urban communities, and workplaces, the CDRs were intended to be organs of popular power and political initiative. Forces’ Defence Committees were established in the armed forces and the police service.
The most important aspect of the reorganization of the PDCs and the WDCs from the standpoint of the political and socioeconomic functions of the CDRs was the opening up of membership to all Ghanaians. This decision reversed the earlier exclusion from PDC/WDC membership of elite groups, such as chiefs and so-called exploiting classes. The change returned the revolution to its original objective of involving all Ghanaians in decision making and opened up possibilities for genuine national reconciliation. According to official directives, the principal functions of the CDRs were to ensure democratic participation in decision making in all communities and workplaces; to guard against corruption, abuse of power, sabotage, and social injustice; and to promote sustained national productivity by focusing efforts on the productive sectors of the economy.
The other mass organizations of the revolution were the National Mobilisation Program, the 31st December Women’s Movement, the Civil Defence Organisation (the militia), the National Youth Organising Commission, and the June Four Movement. The National Mobilisation Program started as an emergency program to receive and resettle Ghanaian returnees from Nigeria in 1983. It soon developed into a cooperative movement engaged in a variety of economic and community development projects throughout Ghana. The 31st December Women’s Movement aimed to bring about the political, social, and economic emancipation of Ghanaian women, especially rural women.
The Civil Defence Organisation, popularly known as the militia, was set up as a paramilitary institution to assist other state organizations in national emergencies such as invasions, bush fires, and floods. Members received special training in combat readiness to defend the nation against internal and external aggression and economic sabotage. The militia, in addition to combating crime in local communities, engaged in voluntary social and economic activities to help promote community development. In this effort, it was often assisted by the National Youth Organising Commission, created in 1982 as part of the PNDC’s efforts to establish a youth movement to carry out the objectives of the 31st December 1981 Revolution.
The June Four Movement was a militant mass revolutionary movement dedicated to keeping alive the ideals of the June 4, 1979, uprising that Rawlings had led. It sought to arouse the population at large to assist in establishing so-called people’s power within the avowed objectives of the revolutionary process. On a practical level, it worked with the militia and the National Youth Organising Commission in various community development projects.
Participatory opportunities of the ordinary Ghanaian citizen were significantly expanded through membership in revolutionary organs. Before the establishment of the district assemblies in 1989, the PNDC government was thus able to reach the rural population and to broaden its base of support by direct consultation. This was achieved through chiefs, the CDRs, and other national bodies such as the Democratic Youth League of Ghana, which in 1988 claimed a nationwide membership of more than 100,000. Other such groups included farmers’ organizations, market women’s associations, trade union groups, students’ organizations, and religious and other bodies. The PNDC’s political opposition, however, hotly contested the democratic nature of such organs and saw them as nothing but state-sponsored vigilantes engaged in intimidation and human rights abuses.
Political Ferment Under the PNDC
As the country prepared to move toward constitutional rule, the major concern of Ghanaians was how to ensure a relatively smooth and peaceful democratic transition. This concern was shared by the opposition, the activities of which were under constant surveillance by the national security agencies, and by the ruling PNDC, under pressure to present a clear, firm timetable and program for a return to constitutional government.
The transition process had unsavory features that many Ghanaians believed could lead to an outbreak of violence. Intense mutual suspicion and antipathy existed between the PNDC leadership and the opposition going back to the June 4, 1979, uprising and the draconian measures taken by the AFRC. On one side, Rawlings and the PNDC saw the opposition leaders not as individuals genuinely interested in real democracy but as elitist, corrupt, and selfseeking “big men” who had vowed to fight to the bitter end to reverse the gains of the revolution and to restore the old system of corruption and exploitation.
On the other, the opposition viewed Rawlings and his Ewe ethnic henchmen, notably Kojo Tsikata, his chief of security, as a bloodthirsty group—with the worst human rights record in postcolonial Ghanaian history—which was determined to retain power by any means. Many opposition leaders could not forgive Rawlings for the loss of lives, power, and property, and for the incarcerations inflicted on friends and relatives, if not on themselves, by the PNDC regime. The once respectable professional elite of comfortable lawyers, doctors, university professors, businessmen, and politicians in exile abroad could not hide their outrage at Ghana’s being ruled by, to them, a young, inexperienced, half-educated military upstart.
It is against this background of intense mutual hostility and distrust and vicious political rivalry that the evolution of the democratic transition between 1988 and the inauguration of the Fourth Republic in January 1993 should be assessed and understood. This long transition process was characterized by two related struggles: the struggle for economic recovery from decades of economic decline and for better living standards for the average Ghanaian; and the struggle for “true democracy,” the meaning of which was hotly debated and gradually shifted over time, especially after 1988. These national struggles led to the reconstitution of old political alliances and to the emergence of new political groupings.
That it took the PNDC more than ten years to lift the ban imposed on political parties at the inception of PNDC rule not only demonstrated the PNDC’s control over the pace and direction of political change but also confirmed the shallowness of the political soil in which the party system was rooted. Party activity had been banned under all the military governments that had dominated nearly twenty out of the thirty-five years of Ghana’s postcolonial existence. Even during periods of civilian administration, party organization had been largely urban centered and rudimentary. It had depended far more on personal alliances and on ethnic and local ties, not to mention patron-client relationships, than on nationally institutionalized structures. Party politics had tended to generate corruption and factionalism. The party system, therefore, never had any real hold on the consciousness of the average Ghanaian, especially the rural Ghanaian.
All the same, three major electoral political traditions have emerged in Ghana since the 1950s, namely, the Nkrumahist tradition, the Danquah-Busiaist tradition, and the more recent Rawlingsist tradition. These traditions are identified with their founders—each a commanding political figure—and are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In political terms, the Nkrumahists are generally considered “leftist” and “progressive,” the DanquahBusiaists more “rightist” and more “conservative,” and the Rawlingsists “populist” and “progressive.” In practice, however, the traditions are less distinguishable by ideological orientation than by dominant personalities and ethnic origins.
Against this background, the opposition call for multiparty democracy had to overcome great odds, not least of which was the intense prejudice of the chairman of the PNDC against political parties. Rawlings strongly believed that party politics had hitherto produced two forms of abuse of power—the “corrupt dictatorship” of the Kofi Abrefa Busia regime (1969-72) and the “arrogant dictatorship” of the Nkrumah (1957-66) and Limann (1979- 81) governments. Nonpartisan, honest, and accountable government would provide an effective antidote to these abuses, he argued. Indeed, Rawlings appeared to have an almost fanatical belief that corruption was at the root of nearly all of Ghana’s problems and that, if only it could be stamped out, the country would return to its former prosperity.
In reaction to Rawlings’s position, opposition groups, such as the London-based Ghana Democratic Movement and the Campaign for Democracy in Ghana, and individuals within and outside Ghana committed to multiparty democracy grew increasingly desperate as they focused on the single aim of overthrowing the PNDC regime. Between 1983 and 1986, at least a dozen coup plots were uncovered by an efficient and much-feared state security system. At the same time, vigorous debates occurred within the PNDC, radical organizations, and trade unions over the direction of economic policy, the content and form of true democracy, and the desirability of accepting International Monetary Fund ( IMF) support for Ghana’s Economic Recovery Program (ERP).
Urban workers and students especially exhibited growing frustration at their inability to influence policy or to express dissent through readily available channels. Many urban workers felt the CDRs did not effectively represent the opinions of workers in the way that the PDCs and the WDCs had done before their reorganization. In general, public criticism of government policy was discouraged. In the face of repeated coup plots and destabilization attempts, which lasted throughout the PNDC period, the regime was eager to retain tight control of the political situation, and an independent press had difficulty surviving. All the same, the PNDC was clearly aware of the urgent need for the government to provide genuine democratic channels and institutions to enable workers, students, professional bodies, and other interest groups to express dissent and to provide constructive criticism of government policy. There was, therefore, a concerted effort to transform the CDRs and other revolutionary organs into real instruments of grass-roots democracy. The implementation of the government decentralization program and the establishment of district assemblies were likewise aimed at furthering the process of genuine popular democratization.
Interest Groups and National Politics
Among the politically active and influential organizations and interest groups are the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG), the Catholic Bishops Conference (CBC), the Ghana Journalists Association, the National Union of Ghanaian Students (NUGS), the regional houses of chiefs, and the National House of Chiefs. Because political parties in Ghana have been weak and the national political system itself has been unstable, the enduring nature of some of these firmly established interest groups has often substituted for political stability. As a result of their stabilizing and quasi-political institutional role, interest groups such as the CBC, the CCG, and the GBA have exerted enormous influence on national policy. The relationship between incumbent governments and these powerful interest groups has never been easy, however; the government has invariably tried to co-opt or to control, if not to intimidate, the leadership of these urban-based organizations.
Of all politically active organizations, the TUC has always had the largest following, with a total membership in the early 1990s of more than 500,000. This figure includes workers and salaried employees in the public and the private sectors who are members of the seventeen unions that are affiliated with the TUC. Since independence, successive governments have made repeated attempts to control it. Rawlings enjoyed the support of the TUC during the first two years of PNDC rule, but the stringent austerity measures introduced in the ERP in 1983 led to discontent among union members adversely affected by devaluation, wage restraints, and lay-offs. By 1985 the original support enjoyed by the PNDC in labor circles had all but disappeared. The PNDC worked hard to regain union support, however, and the National Democratic Congress government of the Fourth Republic has continued to woo the unions through tripartite consultations involving itself, the TUC, and employers.
From the inception to the end of PNDC rule in 1992, the CCG, the CBCA, the GBA, NUGS, and the National House of Chiefs played prominent roles in the transition to democracy. These organizations took the provisional nature of the PNDC regime quite literally, calling for a quick return to democratic national government. Although NUGS and the GBA consistently demanded a return to multiparty democracy, the CCG, the CBC, and the national and regional houses of chiefs favored a nonpartisan national government. While the NUGS and GBA leadership used methods that frequently provoked confrontation with the PNDC, the CBC and the national and regional houses of chiefs preferred a more conciliatory method of political change, emphasizing national unity.
The CCG, the CBC, and the national and regional houses of chiefs function openly as independent national lobbies to promote common rather than special interests. They insist on negotiation and mediation in the management of national disputes, and they advocate policy alternatives that stress the long-term needs of society. In the past, they have taken bold initiatives to attain the abrogation of state measures and legislation that violate human rights or that threaten law and order. All three bodies share a commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and the creation of political institutions that reflect Ghanaian cultural traditions.
The GBA, like the other professional associations in Ghana, is concerned, among other things, with maintaining the dignity of the legal profession through a code of professional ethics and with promoting further learning and research in the profession. The main objectives of the GBA according to its constitution include the defense of freedom and justice, the maintenance of judicial independence, and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as defined under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. These objectives, by definition, have inevitably pitted the GBA against both military regimes and one-party governments, which on their part have considered the GBA at best a necessary evil. NUGS and its national executive, representing the more than 8,000 students of Ghana’s three universities in Accra-Legon, Kumasi, and Cape Coast are among the most vocal and articulate pressure groups in Ghana. By reason of their higher education, in a largely illiterate society, students have often been in a position to agitate for far-reaching political, economic, and social change. Indeed, students have been in the forefront of political activism in Ghana since independence. NUGS was most vocal in its support of Rawlings and the PNDC in 1982, but this changed as the PNDC adopted policies that NUGS considered to be against the welfare of students in particular and of Ghanaians in general.
The CCG, another vocal and influential interest group, was founded in 1929. The CCG’s principal function is advisory; it acts through consultation among its member churches. The CCG operates through several committees, including education, social action (national affairs), and literacy campaigns. The CCG is a member of the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies, and it is a strong advocate of human rights.
The CBC, the highest local unifying authority of the Roman Catholic Church in Ghana, dates to 1950, although the church itself has been in Ghana since the fifteenth century. The CBC has established a Joint Social Action Committee for cooperation between it and the CCG.
The National House of Chiefs and the ten regional houses of chiefs represent more than 32,000 recognized traditional rulers who exercise considerable influence throughout Ghana, especially in the countryside. As trustees of communal lands and natural resources, chiefs are often the pivot around which local socio-economic development revolves. The 1992 constitution, like all previous constitutions, guarantees the institution of chieftaincy together with its traditional councils as established by customary law and usage. To preserve their role as symbols of national unity, however, chiefs are forbidden from active participation in party politics.
District Assembly Elections
The main political preoccupations of the PNDC and the Ghanaian public in 1988 were the implementation of the government’s decentralization program and the elections to the new District Assemblies (DAs). In a speech commemorating his fifth year in power in January 1987, Rawlings had announced proposals for the decentralization of government. These had included promises of elections for DAs and a national debate on the ERP. The debate on the ERP never materialized, but debates on the elections and the DAs did.
Among the radical changes introduced in local government elections were provisions that no cash deposits were required of candidates for district level elections and that illiteracy in English was no longer a disqualification. To accommodate nonEnglish speakers in the DAs and to make assembly debates accessible to the majority of constituents, local languages could be used in the DAs. The elections were to be nonpartisan: the ban on political parties was not lifted. Implementation of the decentralization program and preparation for the district elections did not completely silence the opposition nor did it remove the sources of public discontent and disaffection toward the government within some sections of the Ghanaian population.
In 1988 there was no indication of what political structures and institutions would be established above the DAs at regional and national levels. Nor was it clear whether creation of the DAs was intended to broaden the civilian support base of the PNDC, thereby legitimizing and perpetuating PNDC rule indefinitely. Some felt that the word “provisional” in the regime’s name sounded a bit hollow after five years in power. Indeed, many read the proposed district elections as a strategy similar to the union government proposal in 1978 that had not been implemented because of its widespread unpopularity.
In February 1988, Adu Boahen, a retired history professor and later a presidential candidate and Rawlings’s main challenger, delivered three lectures in which he severely criticized military rule in Ghana and the PNDC regime in particular as the cause of political instability. He affirmed that the AFRC led by Rawlings in 1979 was completely unnecessary. He attacked the alleged domination of the PNDC regime and of major national institutions by the Ewe and called for an interim coalition government within a year and for a return to multiparty democracy by 1992. The state-owned national media attacked Boahen’s criticism of the PNDC but did not report the original text of the lectures.
For the DA elections, the country was divided into three zones by region. Zone one consisted of Western Region, Central Region, Ashanti Region, and Eastern Region; zone two, of Upper East Region, Upper West Region, and Northern Region; zone three, of Greater Accra Region, Volta Region, and Brong-Ahafo Region. The first round of the nonpartisan elections took place on December 6, 1988, in zone one of the country, with polling in zones two and three following on January 31 and February 28, 1989, respectively. District election committees disqualified several candidates in a number of districts for various offenses, including nonpayment of taxes, refusal to participate in communal labor, and shirking other civic responsibilities. With an estimated average turnout rate of about 60 percent of registered voters (some rural districts had a 90 percent turnout), the highest for any election in two decades, most Ghanaians saw this first step toward the establishment of national democratic institutions as quite successful. The opposition, although critical of the composition of the DAs, accepted the assemblies in principle.
The DAs gave new momentum to the exercise of grass-roots democracy as well as to local determination of and implementation of development projects. The principle of nonpartisan, decentralized political structure proved popular. By-laws passed by the DAs had to be deposited with the PNDC secretariat immediately after their passage. If within twenty-one days the PNDC raised no objection to them, they automatically became law.
Some elected representatives, a majority of whom were farmers and school teachers, resented the fact that PNDC appointees, mostly chiefs and professionals who constituted one-third of the memberships of the DAs, often sought to dominate the proceedings. Also, most of the districts and their people were poor, and the DAs’ quick resort to taxes and numerous levies to raise much needed revenue proved burdensome and unpopular. In some parts of country, for example Cape Coast and Accra, there were protests and tax revolts. In August 1989, regional coordinating councils were formed in all ten regions to streamline the work of the DAs and to coordinate district policies and projects. The PNDC made it clear that DAs had no power to collect or to levy income taxes.
Charting the Political Transition
The inauguration of the DAs removed some of the political pressures on the PNDC, but political ferment continued in some sectors of the population. So, too, did the arrest and detention of leading opponents of the PNDC regime. The most publicized of the latter was the arrest and detention in September 1989 of Major Courage Quarshigah, ex-commandant of the Ghana Military Academy and a former close ally of Rawlings. He was accused of leading an attempted coup and of an alleged plot to assassinate Rawlings.
A new phase of the political struggle of the opposition against the PNDC opened in January 1990 when the GBA called on the PNDC to initiate immediately a referendum that would permit the Ghanaian people to determine openly the form of constitutional government they wished for themselves. In his end- of-year message in 1989, Rawlings had promised that the government would strengthen participatory democracy at the grass-roots level. He also proposed that the NCD initiate nationwide consultations with various groups to determine the country’s economic and political future. These consultations consisted of a series of seminars, in all ten regional capitals, that ran from July 5 to November 9, 1990, at which the public was invited to express its views.
Meanwhile, the CBC issued a communiqué calling for a national debate on Ghana’s political future. On July 24, the Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guards (KNRG) issued a statement calling for a return to multiparty democracy, for the lifting of the ban on political parties, and for the creation of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution to be approved by a national referendum. On August 1, the KNRG, other opposition organizations, and some prominent Ghanaians formed the Movement for Freedom and Justice (MFJ). Adu Boahen was named interim chairman. The MFJ identified the restoration of multiparty democracy and the rule of law in Ghana as its main objectives. Its leaders immediately complained about harassment by the security agencies and about denial of permits to hold public rallies by the police.
Debate about the country’s political future dominated 1991. In his broadcast to the nation on New Year’s Day, Rawlings outlined steps toward the next stages in the country’s political evolution, which included issuance of an NCD report on what form of democracy Ghanaians preferred. The PNDC made it clear that it did not favor multiparty democracy, although its spokesmen indicated that the PNDC had an open mind on the matter. The MFJ immediately called for a constituent assembly, where all parties, including the PNDC, would submit proposals for Ghana’s constitutional future. Meanwhile, the PNDC unveiled a statue of J.B. Danquah, Nkrumah’s political opponent, after an announcement in 1990 that it would build a statue and a memorial park for Nkrumah. This was a clear attempt to placate and to woo both the Ghanaian “political right” and Nkrumahists of the “left” simultaneously.
In late March, the NCD presented its findings on “true democracy” to the PNDC. After receiving the NCD report, the PNDC announced in May that it accepted the principle of a multiparty system. In its response to the NCD report, the PNDC pledged to set up a committee of constitutional experts that would formulate the draft constitutional proposals to be placed before a national consultative assembly. The committee came into being in May. A 258- member National Consultative Assembly was elected in June with the task of preparing a draft constitution for submission to the PNDC not later than December 31, 1991. The PNDC was then to submit the draft constitution to a national referendum, after which, if approved, it was to enter into force on a date set by the PNDC.
In August Rawlings announced that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held before the end of 1992 and that international observers would be allowed. By the end of 1991, however, the PNDC had not announced when the ban on political parties would be lifted, although many individuals and organizations, such as the Kwame Nkrumah Welfare Society, the Friends of Busia and Danquah, and the Eagle Club, had formed or reemerged and were active as parties in all but name. Despite persistent acrimony surrounding the management and control of the transition process, the PNDC appointed an independent Interim National Electoral Commission in February 1992. The commission was responsible for the register of voters, the conduct of fair elections, and the review of boundaries of administrative and electoral areas.
In a nationwide radio and television broadcast on March 5 marking the thirty-fifth anniversary of Ghana’s independence, Rawlings officially announced the following timetable for the return to constitutional government: presentation of the draft constitution to the PNDC by the end of March 1992; a referendum on the draft constitution on April 28, 1992; lifting of the ban on political parties on May 18, 1992; presidential elections on November 3, 1992; parliamentary elections on December 8, 1992; and the inauguration of the Fourth Republic on January 7, 1993.
The PNDC saw the constitutional referendum as an essential exercise that would educate ordinary Ghanaians about the draft constitution and that would create a national consensus. The PNDC opposition urged its supporters and all Ghanaians to support the draft constitution by voting for it. In the April 1992 national referendum, the draft constitution was overwhelmingly approved by about 92 percent of voters. Although the turnout was lower than expected (43.7 percent of registered voters), it was higher than that of the 1978 referendum (40.3 percent) and that of the 1979 parliamentary elections (35.2 percent). The new constitution provided that a referendum should have a turnout of at least 35 percent, with at least 70 percent in favor, in order to be valid.
After lifting of the ban on party politics in May, several rival splinter groups or offshoots of earlier organizations, notably the so-called Nkrumahists and Danquah-Busiaists, as well as new groups, lost no time in declaring their intention to register as political parties and to campaign for public support. In June the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems, which had sent a team to Ghana to observe the April referendum, issued a report recommending re-registration of voters as quickly as possible if Ghana were to have truly competitive presidential and parliamentary elections. The foundation claimed that the total number of registered voters–8.4 million—was improbable. Given an estimated national population of about 16 million—of whom about half were under age fifteen—the Foundation concluded that with a voting age of eighteen, the total registrable population ought not to be above 7.75 million.
This discovery fueled a persistent opposition demand to reopen the voters’ register, but constraints of time, technology, and money made such an effort impossible. Instead, the Interim National Electoral Commission embarked on a “voters’ register cleansing.” Only about 180,000 names were removed from the referendum register, however, leaving the total registered voters at 8.23 million, a statistical impossibility, the opposition insisted. Estimates put the actual number of registered voters at about 6.2 million, making the 3.69 million turn-out at the referendum an adjusted 59.5 percent.
Despite protests and demands for a new voters’ register, which had not been met when nominations for presidential candidates for the November 3 elections closed on September 29, 1992, five presidential candidates representing five political parties filed their nomination papers. Apart from Rawlings, who after months of uncertainty decided to run as a candidate for the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the other four presidential candidates were Adu Boahen of the New Patriotic Party (NPP); Hilla Limann, former president of Ghana, of the People’s National Convention (PNC); Kwabena Darko, a multimillionaire businessman, of the National Independence Party (NIP); and Lieutenant General (retired) Emmanuel Erskine, of the People’s Heritage Party (PHP). The PNC, the NIP, and the PHP were all Nkrumahists. A much discussed alliance among these fractious and disorganized parties did not materialize, even though just before the elections there was talk of a possible grand anti-Rawlings coalition.
The real issue of the 1992 presidential election was whether Rawlings would succeed in holding on to power as a democratically elected head of state after nearly eleven years as an unelected one. The slogan of the NDC was “continuity,” meaning the continuity of PNDC policies. In fact, to many Ghanaians, the NDC party was the same as the PNDC without the initial “P.” The opposition, by contrast, could not articulate a clear, consistent, and convincing alternative program.
The most serious challenge to Rawlings came from Boahen, who had significant support among the urban middle classes and among his ethnic kin in Ashanti Region. The inevitable split of the Nkrumahist vote weakened the chances of each of the three Nkrumahist candidates. Darko was hardly known outside Kumasi and Accra, and Limann was popularly seen as a weak and dull leader. Erskine was hardly a household word, even in Central Region where he came from. The presidential election was not fought over ideology or clearly presented political programs, but rather over personalities, over Rawlings’s human rights record, and over allegations that he had been in power for too long.
After elections in 200 constituencies (sixty new electoral constituencies had been added to the old 140) on November 3, 1992, Rawlings won a convincing majority over all his opponents combined. The margin of victory surprised not only Rawlings, but his political rivals as well. The hoped-for run-off election did not materialize because Rawlings had gained an outright majority of almost 60 percent of the nearly 4 million votes cast.
Rawlings won resoundingly in regions where his opponents, especially Boahen, had been expected to carry the day. Boahen received 30.4 percent of the total votes; Limann, 6.7 percent; Darko, 2.8 percent; Erskine, 1.7 percent; and Rawlings, 58.3 percent. Rawlings even won 62 percent of the vote in Brong-Ahafo Region, which was considered a stronghold of the Danquah-Busia political tradition. He also won in the Greater Accra Region, where NUGS, the GBA, the TUC, and the middle-class opposition had been unsparing in their anti-PNDC attacks. Boahen received a majority vote in his NPP heartland, Ashanti Region, and in the Eastern Region where he was born.
A public opinion poll conducted in late 1990 and early 1991 in Accra, Kumasi, and Sekondi-Takoradi indicated some of the reasons for Rawlings’s victory. The poll suggested that, in spite of the PNDC’s record of human rights abuses and the negative impact of the ERP, the PNDC was more popular in urban areas than had been thought. The PNDC was perceived as having done much to rehabilitate the country’s infrastructure, to instill national pride, and to improve the efficiency and honesty of government spending. Although many of the respondents felt that their standard of living had worsened since the PNDC came to power and since the implementation of the Structural Adjustment Program, a significant number also indicated that they and the country would have been worse off without the ERP. Although many considered the PNDC too authoritarian, Rawlings personally continued to be very popular and received much of the credit for the PNDC’s successes, while the PNDC as a whole was blamed for its more negative characteristics.
The shock of the NPP’s electoral defeat led immediately to disturbances in some regional capitals. A curfew was imposed in Kumasi, but in most of the country, the results were accepted without incident. The opposition parties, however, immediately protested, crying fraud as well as rigging of the ballot and asking the interim electoral commission not to declare a winner until allegations of irregularities had been investigated. On November 10, however, the commission formally declared Rawlings the winner.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties had announced their intention to boycott the parliamentary elections rescheduled from December 8 to December 29, following an appeal to the interim electoral commission. Efforts to get the opposition to reconsider its boycott proved unsuccessful, even after the National House of Chiefs announced in late November that it felt the presidential election had been fair and free. Many European ambassadors in Accra likewise announced that they had no difficulty recognizing Rawlings’s victory
International election monitoring teams from the Organization of African Unity, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Carter Center in the United States also endorsed the results of the presidential election, although with reservations in some cases.
The PNDC indicated that it intended to proceed with parliamentary elections with or without the opposition parties. In a gesture to its opponents, however, the PNDC extended the deadline for all parties to register independent candidates, but opposition party officials threatened to deal severely with any party member who ran as an independent candidate. Amid sporadic political violence—some of it linked to the opposition, arrests of members of opposition groups by state security officers, and accusations of PNDC intimidation and harassment by the four opposition parties boycotting the elections, parliamentary elections were held on December 29, 1992, without participation of the opposition parties.
Ironically, in boycotting the parliamentary elections, the opposition offered the PNDC the continuity it had been vigorously campaigning for and undermined any possibility of multiparty parliamentary democracy in the first term of the Fourth Republic. At the close of nominations for the elections on December 1, the NDC was unopposed in fifteen of the 200 constituencies. Only five candidates from the four main opposition parties had registered. According to the Interim National Electoral Commission, of the 7.3 million registered voters, more than 2 million voted on election day. The supporters of the four opposition parties stayed away, as did many NDC supporters, who felt that an NDC landslide victory was a foregone conclusion. The number of registered voters excluded twenty-three constituencies where the candidates were elected unopposed, so that the turnout represented 29 percent of voters in 177 constituencies. The NDC swept the board, winning 189 of the 200 parliamentary seats, including the twenty-three who were elected unopposed. Two other parties allied with the NDC in what was called the Progressive Alliance—the National Convention Party and the Every Ghanaian Living Everywhere Party—won eight seats and one seat, respectively. The remaining two seats were captured by two independent women candidates, part of a group of sixteen women elected to parliament, the largest number ever in Ghana.
In the presidential election, almost 4 million out of nearly 8.3 million registered voters had cast their votes in all 200 constituencies combined, for a turnout of 48 percent. The total votes cast in the parliamentary elections represented 51.5 percent of the votes cast in the presidential election. The opposition parties were quick to ascribe the low turnout to the effectiveness of their boycott. But the low turnout was also explained in part by the absence of real issues and the fact that many people chose to stay at home to enjoy their Christmas holidays.
Rawlings and the NDC won the elections because the opposition was divided for the most part and failed to present a credible alternative to the PNDC. The programs on which the opposition campaigned did not differ substantially from those the PNDC had been implementing since 1983. The opposition parties, for example, advocated a free enterprise economy, political decentralization, rural development, and liberal democracy, measures already on the PNDC agenda.
When internal and external pressures in line with political reforms occurring elsewhere on the continent persuaded Rawlings to return to multiparty democracy at the national level, he could do so without taint of corruption. Despite a record flawed by widespread human rights abuses in the early years of the Revolution, he had demonstrated genuine concern for the well-being of the people of Ghana.
Rawlings also won because, as head of state for more than a decade, his name had become a household word, and he was able to exploit the advantages of incumbency. He had won favor with a wide range of interest groups, influential chiefs, and local leaders. Rawlings had behind him a well-established nationwide network of CDRs, the 31st December Women’s Movement, other so-called revolutionary organs, and dedicated district secretaries and chiefs for the propagation of his message. All these bodies and groups had been active long before the fractious political parties, the rival leaders of which were hardly known beyond the major cities, had struggled into existence. Finally, Rawlings won because of widespread belief in his personal sincerity and integrity.