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9 things you should know about Ghana’s election

A man walk past election campaign flags on the street in Accra, Ghana, Dec. 6. (Sunday Alamba/AP Photo)

On Wednesday, Ghanaians will go to the polls to elect a president and 275 members of parliament. A democratic success story, the West African nation has since transitioning to multiparty rule in 1992 conducted six successful elections and witnessed two alternations of executive power.

There is widespread public support for democracy in Ghana, but high stakes, tight competition, and faltering trust in the courts (a concern should allegations of fraud arise) mean that the elections will test the country’s democratic resolve. Here are nine things you should know about Ghana’s 2016 elections:

1. Two candidates dominate the presidential race. Together, incumbent John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and Nana Akufo-Addo of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) expect to win over 95 percent of the votes. The 2016 election is essentially a rerun of the 2012 polls, with the same two major party candidates. Now 72, Akufo-Addo is making his third bid for the presidency, and almost certainly his last should he lose.

There are five other candidates competing in the elections: Ivor Kobina Greenstreet of the Convention People’s Congress (CPP), former first lady Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings of the National Democratic Party (NDP), Papa Kwesi Nduom of the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), Edward Mahama of the People’s National Convention (PNC) and Jacob Osei Yeboah, an independent candidate.

2. While the jury is out on who will win, the electorates’ appetite for democratic turnovers, a failing economy, and several high-profile corruption scandals increase the chances for the opposition NPP candidate. Unlike in other African countries where the presidential seat hardly switches between parties, no party has ruled more than eight years (two terms) since the return to democracy in Ghana. Akufo-Addo is therefore emboldened by the fact that the incumbent party has been in office for two terms, and hopeful that voters in the key swing regions and urban centers will turn in his favor.

3. The economy has been on the decline and inflation on the rise. In 2011, fresh oil discoveries and foreign investments placed Ghana among the fastest-growing economies in the world. That has been replaced today with economic stagnation and ballooning public debt. Over the last four years, Ghana’s currency has lost value on international markets and was tagged as the worst performing currency in Africa in 2014.

Accordingly, in a recent survey conducted by the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), most Ghanaians say the country is going in the wrong direction and believe the incumbent government is fully or partly responsible for the current economic woes. The incumbent is also struggling with a tarnished image following a string of high-profile corruption scandals, and the recent Mo Ibrahim Index placing the country among the dozen African countries with declining governance over the past decade.

4. Nonetheless, president Mahama is emphasizing his government’s investments in public infrastructure. For example, Mahama has pointed to his role in the construction of 200 new senior high schools. In the last days of the campaign, the president has been on a whirlwind tour, commissioning new infrastructure projects, large and small, including secondary schools, modern markets, roads, streetlights and health clinics.

5. Campaigning from both major parties has centered on job creation. A recent report released by the World Bank put the unemployment rate among the youth (15-24) at 48 percent. The NPP launched their campaign in early October with a manifesto explicitly entitled “An Agenda for Jobs; Creating Opportunities & Prosperity for All.” During the campaign, the NPP have promised the construction of a factory in each of the country’s 216 districts as a way to create jobs. While the incumbent party’s manifesto is entitled “ Changing Lives, Transforming Ghana,” it states that its vision for Ghana is to provide “sustainable jobs through industrialization.”

6. This election will be the first under the leadership of the new head of Ghana’s electoral commission. In June 2015, the president appointed a new chairwoman to the Electoral Commission, Charlotte Osei. Her appointment followed the retirement of the country’s acclaimed Electoral Commission chair, Kwadwo Afari Gyan, who presided over the last six elections.

A trained lawyer, Osei is more than qualified for the task. However, her lack of experience in electoral administration has resulted in significant missteps that raised eyebrows and heightened anxieties. Earlier this year, she dragged her feet on cleaning the voter register alleged to contain illegal voters and more recently disqualified some presidential candidates on grounds of “errors” in their application forms. In both cases, her authority was undermined when the courts stepped in to overturn the Electoral Commission’s decisions.

7. New electoral legislation should reduce opportunities for fraud and increase public confidence in the results. A recent ruling by the court should help close gaps in the country’s election administration laws and limit fraud. The new ruling dictates that, in addition to verifying the results forms at polling stations, returning officers and political party candidates (or their representatives) must also sign Results Collation Forms, which aggregate results from multiple polling stations. Copies of the results forms must be given to political party candidates or their representatives.

The law now also requires that election officials post polling stations results in public view at each station, a practice that is common on the continent, (e.g., this has been done in Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda). Improving electoral transparency will help to curb concerns of bias and hopefully increase perceptions of electoral integrity. Perceptions have been waning since 2012, when the NPP filed a petition at the Supreme Court alleging fraud and illegality in the election administration.

8. Efforts by civil society organizations will be crucial in promoting fair and peaceful elections. Ghana’s Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), a consortium of 34-civil society groups, will conduct a Parallel Vote Tabulation to independently verify the election results.

CODEO will train and deploy about 7,000 election observers to a random sample of the country’s over 26,000 polling stations. Our research from the 2012 election shows that the presence of election observers at polling stations helps to reduce irregularities and intimidation, which is reassuring.

9. Over 1,000 candidates from eleven parties will compete in parliamentary elections. Citizens will choose from among 1144 candidates to elect members of parliament to represent Ghana’s 275 electoral constituencies. Only 12 percent (137) are women. Parliamentary elections are becoming more competitive over time, with candidates winning with smaller margins.

Sarah Brierley and George Ofosu are doctoral candidates in political science at UCLA.