Ghana goes to the polls December 7th to elect a new president and all 230 members of the country's parliament. The process is expected to lead to a third successive change of government through the ballot box. Political historian Nana Esilfie Conduah says although Ghana has had a long history of democratic elections, the process has not been smooth because of frequent military interventions in the past.
In 1957, Ghana became the first democratic sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to become independent. The independence movement was led by Kwame Nkrumah, who later became the country's first president. He was overthrown by a military coup in 1966. There followed a series of transitions to democracy ushering in new civilian republics, which again were overthrown by men and women in uniform. The current government, led by President John Kufuor, is part of the Fourth Republic. President Kufuor is serving his second and final term.
Today, there are 16 registered political parties in Ghana. Eight of the parties are taking part in the presidential election and 12 in the parliamentary election. The two dominant ones are the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP). The NDC is said to favor social democracy and a strong role for the state in the economy. The NPP is said to favor free enterprise and smaller role for the state.
There were also two main parties after independence. Conduah said in the 1950's and 1960's, the political landscape was dominated by the Convention People's Party (CPP) and the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). Kwame Nkrumah formed the CPP after breaking away from the UGCC.
Conduah said the UGCC called themselves "elitists," and leaned to the right. CPP members called themselves the Veranda Boys, a name which they felt showed they had mass appeal. (They chose their name to show that they were among the "regular" people) and described themselves as leftists."
Conduah said the practice of democracy among the electorate was strongly marked by party allegiances. There was little voter education and transparency was not a big issue. Political historian Conduah says boxes were just lined up and people were asked to cast their ballots.
"It is not like that today. Now we know why we have to vote and which parties we belong to. We have electoral register, elections are [also] bound by some constitutional rules," Conduah said.
Other electoral reforms over the years include provision of voter identity cards, introduction of seals on election materials to protect against fraud and the formation of an Inter Party Advisory Committee to offer suggestions to Ghana's Electoral Commission, which is the body mandated by Parliament to conduct elections.
But things have not moved forward completely, according to Conduah. In terms of gender representation in Parliament, Conduah said the situation was better in the 1960's under the government of the CPP.
In June 1960, 10 women were elected by the National Assembly to fill specially created seats meant to expose women to parliamentary life. Today, there are a little over twice that number. Some in Ghana are calling for seats to be set aside for women in the parliament.
"If you compare the size of Parliament then and the size of the population and that of today, I think [currently] they have not done any better. Unfortunately our women have become disillusioned with politics. Only a few of them are braving it," says Conduah.