The primary season is over.
Our two main political parties have selected their presidential and parliamentary candidates for the December election.
Although records from the Electoral Commission (EC) show there are 11 registered political parties, the primary season creates the impression that we have only two political parties, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC), in Ghana.
Having observed the process, here are a few points for reflection.
Key takeaways Building and sustaining well-functioning political parties
I am quite struck, after closely studying the constitutions of our two major political parties, by the elaborate administrative structures in place to ensure they function well.
You can think of the structure as a federal system of government with various subunits at the branch, ward or polling station, constituency, district, regional and national level.
Built into these structures are a) political practices that specify the elected positions across all subunits, with well-defined terms of office and a regular cycle of election; and b) administrative practices that make provision for several appointed roles whose task is the day-to-day operations of the party across all subunits.
Coordinating, financing, managing and resolving potential conflict, etc. of such a structure is no easy task.
It is, therefore, commendable, notwithstanding challenges, that this structure was deployed by our two political parties to successfully complete their party primaries for the upcoming elections.
Political party financing
Even if the various officers in elected and appointed positions across all units of the party serve in voluntary and unpaid roles, political parties do incur administrative expenses in running the party.
Membership dues are a source of revenue.
Candidates are charged filing fees, which help pay for the costs associated with conducting primaries.
I often wonder about the adequacy of the revenues raised from these sources to finance political party administrative costs.
But our two main parties are alive and well, which means they can finance their operations.
Questions continue to surround our party finance system and the consequences for good governance, especially once elections are won.
I am still a proponent of some form of state financing of political parties, but I am quick to reckon that there is no political appetite among citizens for such an idea.
Related to the above is how candidates finance their campaigns.
When concerns are raised about how campaigns are financed, it is done with the recognition that running for office requires financial resources.
The issue is the increasing cost of running for office and the lack of transparency regarding the sources of campaign funds (see CDD-Ghana 2021 study on the cost of politics).
The Chairperson of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), in her Constitution Day briefing, said, “We run the risk of exposing ourselves to the dark and dirty money readily available in the world and we will sell our country to forces we cannot begin to imagine.”
I hope we take this warning seriously. I agree that parties and political campaigns must be financed, but that is not the issue.
How we do it and who does it is the issue that needs addressing.
The delegate system
Our political parties have chosen the delegate systems as the method for selecting their respective parliamentary and presidential candidates for national elections.
I acknowledge that over the years they have increased the size of the electoral college.
But if the narrative that primary season is “cocoa season” for delegates, for which we have concerns, then one way to deal with the excesses of the delegate system is to expand the electoral college fully.
In addition, democratic politics is designed to be participatory in nature.
Activities such as party primaries create opportunities for citizens to be fully involved in the democratic process of selecting the next set of leaders should those who prevail go on to win national elections.
Therefore, I continue to be an advocate for an open primary system where all registered party members vote in a primary.
I am curious to know why the NDC, after using the open primary system to select parliamentary candidates in 2016, has reverted to the delegate system.
Perhaps, the lessons they learned can help design the kind of open primary system I am advocating for.
Political appointees and civil servants running for office
Interest in serving one’s country is a good thing.
However, those who do must avoid putting themselves in a difficult situation where questions are asked about their motives, how their campaigns are financed, and whether they are abandoning their duties to be on the campaign trail.
It may be good practice for such categories of persons to officially leave their positions when they decide to run for elected office.
This is not meant to be a punishment but rather to insulate such persons against potentially damaging charges and accusations of impropriety.
The writer is a Democracy and Development fellow at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana)