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With Sunday's Election, Ghana on the Way to Becoming a 'Mature Democracy'

As Ghanaians await the results of Sunday's presidential election, political scientists are weighing in on whether Ghana would pass the test of mature democracy that has eluded most African countries.

Some political scientists define a mature democracy as a country that has had two successful handovers of power from legitimately elected leader to another.

Joel Barkan is senior associate at the Africa Program of the Center for International and Strategic Studies here in Washington. He told VOA Ghana may be on its way to becoming a mature democracy.

"What you're referring to there is the principle of double alternation formulated by Samuel Huntington, a distinguished political scientist at Harvard. That was exactly a mis-quote of his principle because his bar is higher than simply a peaceful transition of power. He requires a double alternation, meaning that one political party is essentially defeated in an election by the candidate of another political party, which in fact happened in 2000 when John Kufuor was elected. And then there is a second alternation when the candidate of incumbent political party, in this case Nana Akufo-Addo he is defeated and the opposition comes back in. Other political suggest that there are other standards for mature democracy, but Ghana is on its way towards that goal," he said.

Barkan said Ghana's electoral system is quite good, including a good commission to supervise the elections.

He said if one adheres to the Huntington definition, then only a few countries in Africa can be considered as mature democracies.

"If you adhere to the Huntington definition, the only double alternation that has occurred has been, I believe I'm correct, in Zambia. But Ghana has had one alternation so far; Senegal has had one alternation. In each of these cases the candidate of the ruling political party was defeated and there was an acceptance of that by the candidate of the ruling party, and the opposition came into power," Barkan said.

He said while Botswana has had a series of a peaceful transfer of power, it does not meet Huntington's definition of a mature democracy in all cases of Botswana's peaceful transition the victor has been a member of the ruling party even though the person elected has changed.

"So Botswana fits the definition you quoted me (that a mature democracy is a country that has had two successful handovers of power from one legitimately elected leader to another). But the definition that political scientists use that is alternation between candidates of governing and opposition parties, Botswana has not met that test," he said.

On the other hand, Barkan said Botswana passes the test of a mature democracy because it has had successful elections, it has a free press, an independent judiciary, low level of corruption, and it has an emerging legislature.

Barkan said a few African countries could fit the scientific definition of a maturing democracy.

"Different political scientists use different measures, let's put it that way. But when you assess Africa as a whole, which I think is your main question, what we tend to find is that there are about seven or eight that are put in the category of maturing democracy that is close to consolidating democracy. Botswana, Benin, Ghana would all fall into that category, South Africa too perhaps. And then another group of countries may be 15 or so that I would aspiring democracies which are not quite there yet, but are quite promising," Barkan said.

He said it has been difficult for African countries to achieve double alternation because it takes time.

"You cannot achieve a double alternation until there are series of elections. You have to have at least two or three for the alternation to take place. But in most cases, incumbent presidents are re-elected. Another aspect of a double alternation requires that candidates of at least two different political parties, government and opposition, are willing to accept defeat and abide by the ruling of the electoral commission. Secondly, they won't do that unless you have an electoral commission that is highly competent, which is what you have in Ghana under Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, the commissioner of elections there," Barkan said.

He said the people of a country also must regard the electoral process as legitimate in order for them to accept the results.