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December 10, 2020


GHANA: President’s narrow victory raises specter of legal challenge

BY Malte Liewerscheidt

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In the evening of 9 December, the Electoral Commission of Ghana (EC) declared President Nana Akufo-Addo the winner of Monday’s presidential election with 51.3% of valid votes cast, against 47.4% cast in favor of his main opponent John Mahama (see chart below). Meanwhile, unconfirmed results suggest the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) may have lost its majority in parliament, with several news outlets reporting an extremely tight race for a majority in the 275-member legislative chamber. While Mahama has yet to comment on the outcome, a high-ranking member of his National Democratic Congress (NDC) announced the party would challenge both presidential and parliamentary results. While a legal challenge would seem unlikely to succeed, the new balance of power in parliament – whichever way it will tilt eventually – suggests scrutiny of the government’s business will be tightened. This may be a good thing in light of recent corruption affairs but may make it more complicated to rein in the budget deficit, even if the latter does not seem to feature high on Akufo-Addo’s priority list to begin with.

According to official results, Akufo-Addo secured 6,730,587 votes against Mahama’s 6,213,182. In their initial reactions, both the European Union (EU) as well as the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) commended the electoral commission, describing the poll overall as free and transparent. The results also closely match CODEO’s projections based on a parallel vote tabulation (PVT). Nevertheless, shortly after the EC’s press conference, Haruna Iddrisu, the current minority leader in parliament and former minister in successive NDC governments, rejected the results on behalf of his party.

It remains to be seen whether Mahama, who, on 8 December, alleged that the military had been used in some constituencies to subvert the will of the people, will follow the legal route. If so, he would be facing an uphill battle: apart from the positive reactions from observer groups cited above, the Supreme Court would need to invalidate 170,554 votes cast in favor of Akufo-Addo in order for his vote share to drop below 50%, which would trigger a re-run. In the only precedent, in August 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5:4 decision in favor of the incumbent Mahama, who had won the December 2012 election with a much narrower margin (50.7%) but was subsequently challenged by Akufo-Addo (47.7%).

Meanwhile, though most results are still not officially confirmed, the race for a majority in parliament seems to have become a knife-edge affair. Provisional results put forward by several news outlets suggest the NPP lost dozens of seats and may lose its majority altogether, pending results in a few undeclared constituencies. A ‘hung parliament’ would be a first for Ghana and may force Akufo-Addo to include members of the NDC in his next cabinet. But even if the ruling party clings to a razor-thin majority, parliamentary oversight of the government’s business will most likely be tightened, which may be a good thing in light of recent corruption affairs. However, it may spell costly compromises that may complicate the business of sanitizing public finances in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, even though indicative spending plans suggest this is not Akufo-Addo’s immediate priority.

GHANA: President’s narrow victory raises specter of legal challenge 1

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