Commercialisation of elective politics in Ghana reaches monstrous proportions
“To win an election in Ghana you need to spend money” reveals Dr. Kojo Asante, the Director Advocacy and Policy Engagement at Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD). Kojo was one of the civil society leaders that participated in the second Summit for Democracy activities in Lusaka, Zambia, March 27-31, 2023.
With the next general election less than 20 months away, (i.e., on December 7th, 2024) aspiring candidates at presidential and parliamentary levels have already scaled up their electioneering effort. Among them, former president John Mahama (2012-2017) who has run for Ghana’s highest office three times, losing in the last two elections to current President Nana Akufo-Addo.
The cost of campaigning for political office in Ghana has been rising astronomically since 2012. Aspiring candidates are spending massively on voter inducement. According to Kojo Asante, it started with candidates donating a small bag of rice, then it went to donating television sets and phones. Now it is at the level of buying cars for voters to partake in the Uber business. This is bonkers!
A report on the cost of politics co-authored by Kojo Asante and Goerge Kunnath, published by the West Minister Foundation for Democracy, reveals that between 2012 and 2016 the cost of running for political office in Ghana increased by 59%. During that time, candidates on average needed to raise GH₵389,803 (approx. US$85,000) to secure the party primary nomination and compete in the parliamentary election in their constituency. To date, that price has multiplied by over three times.
According to the report, expenditure for parliamentary elections is generally higher than in party primaries. This is due to the increased geographical size of the constituency, the demands of the electorate and the closer proximity to elected office.
Secrets Known has established that there is also an element of incumbency abuse. The incumbent political party has unlimited access to funding and spends exorbitantly which provokes the incumbent political party to attempt to match the spending power of incumbency hence creating an “arms race’ in campaign spending.
If the cost of politics rises to unaffordable levels, the danger is that politics becomes the domain of the elite and wealthy, and that the motivation and incentives of MPs moves from serving the public to recovering their own investment.
The Ghanian law restricts political party financing to citizens and citizen organisations, however there is no system to check whether this is actually the case. The practice is that political parties get funding from wherever. It is not uncommon for political party leaders and promoters to go out of the country, fundraise and come back with “bags” of money, and the relevant institutions are not interested in checking on this at the moment.
The laws further require political parties to file reports with the Electoral Commission in regard to party income and expenditure, but the quality of these reports leave a lot to be desired. Once submitted to the EC, there is no follow up. The EC does not make this information readily available for citizens to access. This lack of transparency is one of the factors that push democracy into decline.
The political parties are clearly serving not the interest of the electorate or their members, but interests of their founders, leaders and benefactors. The secret known is that political parties in Ghana are less interested in recruiting members, but prefer recruiting voters instead. With voters, they would buy votes and avoid having a big membership that will become unmanageable and hold them to account.
Ghana has over 20 registered political parties that have participated in elections, but two dominate the political and electoral landscape, i.e., the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC).