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Ghana - Politics

Ghana is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. Ghana is a stable country, with an apolitical military, a solid record on human rights, and a lively, free media. After 17 years of democratic governance, Ghanaians are committed to democracy. Ghana has held six consecutive democratic national elections deemed to have been free and fair. The constitution provides parliament with little power relative to the executive, and the legislature lacks basic resources such as staffing.

The increasingly hyper-aggressive, winner-take-all nature of Ghanaian elections puts tremendous pressure on the political system. Ghanaians have higher expectations for the economic and social benefits of democracy than the government seems able to produce through current institutional arrangements. In this regard, the political status quo has gone about as far as it can in moving Ghanaian democracy forward and, by extension, in creating the conditions for broad-based economic growth and social development.

For democracy to function effectively in Ghana, it was necessary to relate Western democratic processes to Ghanaian political traditions. Peter Du Sautoy, a former district commissioner, recalled his attempt to explain British democracy in the country before independence. His audience understood the process of election, but he was asked how one got rid of one's representative when he no longer seemed to be representative. Du Sautoy explained that one waited until the next election four or five years later. His Ghanaian audience felt that "this was most undemocratic — from time immemorial they had been able to get rid of their chiefs at any time, when, after mature consideration and discussion, they felt they no longer had confidence in them."

This observation clearly defines one enduring aspect of the relationship between politics and democracy as understood by the ordinary Ghanaian. It also highlights the significance of indigenous political ideology and attitudes that constitute the core elements of the contemporary Ghanaian political tradition. This political tradition, along with inherited colonial and Christian elements, informs and shapes the institutional pattern of political life. Its basic principles influence disputes and conflicts over the organization, distribution, maintenance, exercise, and transfer of power, and the allocation of economic resources in Ghanaian society.

Flight Lieutenant (ret.) Jerry John Rawlings ruled the country for 19 years after taking power in 1981. During the last period of military rule, Rawlings brought in populist policies, and Cuban-style revolutionary institutions, including the CDRs, Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, and Peoples Defence Committees. However, under pressure internally and from the international community, in 1991 Rawlings conceded a return to constitutional rule and multi-party politics. A new constitution was approved in a referendum in April 1992.

It is against a background of intense mutual hostility and distrust and vicious political rivalry that the evolution of the democratic transition between 1988 and the inauguration of the Fourth Republic in January 1993 should be assessed and understood. This long transition process was characterized by two related struggles: the struggle for recovery from decades of economic decline and for better living standards for the average Ghanaian; and the struggle for "true democracy," the meaning of which was hotly debated and gradually shifted, especially after 1988. These national struggles led to the reconstitution of old political alliances and to the emergence of new political groupings.

Rawlings became the first President of the Fourth Republic following controversial elections in 1992. These elections ended 11 years of authoritarian rule under Rawlings and his Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), which had seized power from an elected government in 1981.

The Constitution calls for a system of checks and balances, with an executive branch headed by the President, a unicameral parliament, an independent judiciary, and several autonomous commissions, such as the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ). In reality this system of checks and balances under President Rawlings was circumscribed by a parliament dominated by the President's party, a hesitant judicial service, and a system-wide lack of resources that hobbled the effectiveness of all three branches.

In 1998 citizens elected representatives to the district assemblies and, for the first time, unit committees, which form the basis of the local government structure. Of the 16,000 units, elections still must be held in the 3,724 units that failed to produce a quorum of candidates in 1998. These elections were held on a nonpartisan basis, as called for in the 1992 Constitution. However, opposition groups contend that the local government system is stacked in favor of the ruling party, which appoints approximately one-third of the district assembly and unit committee members, as well as the DCE's. DCE's must be confirmed by two-thirds of the district assembly members.

In May 1999, police and military forces were highly visible in Kintampo in the Brong Ahafo Region the day the district assembly was to vote on a controversial nominee for the DCE. The presence of security forces may have influenced some district assembly members to vote in favor of the ruling party's nominee, despite an earlier petition by the chiefs and residents of Kintampo against the nomination.

The Rawlings military regime of the 1980s saw significant human rights abuses. President Kufour’s government set up a National Reconciliation Commission in 2002 to hear cases of human rights abuses during the years of military rule. It heard 4,000 petitions it reported in 2004. The human rights situation has been transformed for the better since the return to constitutional rule.

Rawlings stepped down in 2000. Eight years after leaving office, Rawlings' primary themes were the suffering of the Ghanaian people caused by the multitude of failures of the ruling party, the unfathomable treachery of Western nations--especially the UK and the US--for embracing a corrupt and undemocratic administration, the unforgivable silence of the international media for not exposing the government's shortcomings, and the inevitable rising up of the people to free themselves from the oppressive yoke of an unjust and uncaring regime. Despite his posturing, Rawlings had little influence. All bark and no bite, Rawlings appears to be a man living in the past and railing against phantoms. Rawlings fit the mold of the African "big man," and has an ego to match.

That it took the PNDC more than ten years to lift the ban imposed on political parties at the inception of PNDC rule not only demonstrated the PNDC's control over the pace and direction of political change but also confirmed the shallowness of the political soil in which the party system was rooted. Party activity had been banned under all of the military governments that had dominated nearly twenty out of the thirty-five years of Ghana's postcolonial existence.

Even during periods of civilian administration, party organization had been largely urban centered and rudimentary. It had depended far more on personal alliances and on ethnic and local ties, as well as on patron-client relationships, than on nationally institutionalized structures. Party politics had tended to generate corruption and factionalism. The party system, therefore, never had any real hold on the consciousness of the average Ghanaian, especially the rural Ghanaian.

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