President Nana Akufo-Addo and his New Patriotic Party (NPP) are the frontrunners in the 7 December general elections. While the few reliable polls available all indicate that Akufo-Addo has a strong lead over John Mahama, the presidential candidate of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), the battle for control of the 275-seat parliament may be a tighter race. Nevertheless, while the NPP may lose seats, it would be a major surprise if the ruling party were to lose its comfortable legislative majority altogether. Meanwhile, the prospects of a legal challenge of the presidential election results appear limited, unless the winning margin is much tighter than expected.
Polls carried out by the University of Ghana, the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, and iRIS Research Ghana all suggest that, across almost every category, Akufo-Addo fares much better in voter preference than Mahama. As discussed previously, Akufo-Addo’s advantage stems from several factors: the administration’s pandemic management has proved popular; the opposition’s manifesto seems to lack a coherent message; the government was able to throw in a couple of pre-election sweeteners; and the whole contest takes place amid an unlevel playing field. Moreover, the choice of Mahama as flagbearer, whose tenure (2012-2016) most Ghanaians still associate with corruption scandals, high inflation and persistent power outages, was arguably a key strategic error to begin with.
Besides, the unwritten rule of Ghanaian politics is also in Akufo-Addo’s favor. Since Ghana’s return to multiparty democracy in 1992, power has alternated from the ruling party to the opposition after two terms each: in 2000, 2008 and 2016, respectively (see chart below). In the first two instances, the ruling party lost while fielding new candidates, since John Rawlings (NDC) and John Kufuor (NPP), respectively, had reached the constitutional two-term limit. Indicating close electoral contests, in both cases, a run-off ballot was required as neither candidate had crossed the 50% mark in the first round. In contrast, Akufo-Addo’s convincing first-round victory against Mahama in 2016 was the first time ever that a sitting president was unseated.
Meanwhile, competition for seats in the 275-strong parliament may be more over local issues, and therefore tighter and more difficult to predict than the presidential race. However, the NPP would need to lose out drastically in order to forfeit its majority (see chart below). Finally, the prospects of a legal challenge of the presidential election, which seemed on the rise over the electoral commission’s handling of the voter registration exercise this summer, appear to have subsided in view of recent polls. As such, a legal challenge, which may take months to resolve in court, only seems likely in case the presidential race turns out to be much closer than predicted by the polls.