It is often said that politics is all about numbers and as such, Political Parties must value all votes and seek to protect them. This places an obligation on Political Parties to handle their members with care and utmost sense of tolerance.
But is it really the case that all votes are important without which political parties cannot win elections? History is replete with intra-party conflicts and disagreements sometimes with the result being breakaways or splits.
It must be emphasized that this belief in the sacredness of all votes was what made Political Parties in the past not to prioritize issues of party discipline as they feared that such attempts could result in backlashes and a potential loss of votes.
But the trend is changing as Political Parties especially the two major ones: the New Patriotic Party and the National Democratic Congress, now value party discipline and respect for party structures and decisions.
The two now take the bull by the horn in suspending or dismissing even once- untouchable Party gurus with a large following.
Ghana has at least two classical cases of how to party disunity or internal conflicts could mark a defeat for a political party.
The first of these two classical scenarios was the 1979 elections which saw the relatively unknown Dr Hilla Limann of the People’s National Party [PNP] beating the renowned and more politically astute Victor Owusu of the Popular Front Party [PFP] and ‘Paa Willie’ Ofori Atta of the United National Convention [UNC], both strong members of the UP Tradition in a run-off held on 9th July, 1979.
In that election, Victor Owusu and ‘Paa Willie’ Ofori Atta, unable to reconcile their differences even after the intervention by the then Asantehene, broke the front of the one formidable Danquah-Busia Tradition.
Expectedly, the two lost the elections to the relatively unknown Dr Hilla Limann of the People’s National Party [PNP] having split the votes of the strongholds of the United Party Tradition of Danquah and Busia and now Dombo.
The second classical case of internal party conflict resulting in a defeat for a party was the year 2000 general elections which saw Prof. Evans Atta Mills, the sitting Vice-President and Flagbearer of the National Democratic Congress losing to Mr John Agyekum Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party in both the first and run-off elections.
Ahead of the 2000 elections, the NDC in 1998 held its Congress at Swedru, and John Rawlings who was left with two years to end his second and final term had conditionally expressed his preparedness to support his Veep should he choose to vie for the flagbearership position of the NDC.
This expression did not go down well with some Senior Cadres such as Mr Goosie Tanoh who was considered a natural successor to Mr Rawlings upon the latter’s retirement.
This conflict made Mr Goosie Tanoh and some notable cadres and followers of the NDC leave the Party to form a new Political Party National Reform Party [NRP] to be able to challenge the NDC in the general election of 2000.
No doubt, the NDC was dealt a heavy blow and the Party which had won both the 1992 and 1996 general elections with huge margins lost both the first round and the run-off elections to Mr John Agyekum Kuffour on the latter’s second attempt.
These two scenarios revealed how internal party conflicts which become irreconcilable and protracted can hurt the fortunes of political parties and leave them broken and sometimes directionless.
They are good testaments of how sacred unity and for that matter, all votes are to political parties in their bid to cling political victory from the jaws of defeat. But is that always the case?
The 4th Republic of Ghana has witnessed some of the more pronounced internal party conflicts in both the NPP and the NDC. Perhaps, the NDC has experienced the most lingering of these conflicts.
By 2001 when the party left power after eight solid years of Democratic rule, the Party was embroiled in conflicts over ‘Dual Chairmanship’ and the ‘Founder Status.’ Whereas some prominent members such as Dr Yao Obed Asamoah favoured a reversal to the single chairmanship status with the individual acting as the leader of the Party in opposition, another group of prominent and powerful members led by the Founder favoured the status quo of the dual chairmanship with the position of Founder remaining strong and revered.
This created a sharp division in the front of the Party even in opposition so much so that even though the Party put up a strong fight in the 2004 elections, it still lost respectably to the ruling NPP led by President J.A Kuffour who had won his second and final term.
Ahead of the 2008 general elections, the watershed in the NDC’s internal conflicts was marked. At its Koforidua Congress where the Party had gathered to elect new National Executives, the conflicts reared their ugly heads again.
With the Party has had enough of these conflicts, it voted massively for a new breed of National Executives; but this did not go without the alleged beating of some members who were also vying for reelection as National Executives. This turned the media against the Party as some of those individuals enjoyed wide media coverage to tell their stories.
As this went on for a while, some of these people became ostracized in the Party, and true to the rumours at the time, they left the NDC to found their own Political Party, Democratic Freedom Party [DFP] led by Dr Obed Yao Asamoah; Mr Bede Ziedeng, the General Secretary; and Mr Emmanuel Ansah Antwi, the Flagbearer.
The outcome of the 2008 general election confirmed that this breakaway was a good omen for the NDC as it had won the general elections albeit narrowly in the run-off.
The breakaway offered the NDC huge respite and a sense of unity of like-minded people whose aggregated interest was one of victory in the elections. For the first time in the Party’s history, it was unperturbed about losing the votes of the splinter group. For the first time in the Party’s history, the adage, “election is about numbers” meant nothing serious to the NDC.
With this peace of mind and a rejuvenated party led by fresh National Executives united behind the Three Johns –John Rawlings, the Founder; John Mills, the Flagbearer; and John Mahama, the Running Mate, the Party prosecuted a strong and resilient campaign under the ‘Better Ghana Mantra’ and by the grace of God, won it narrowly in the ‘third round’ to the disappointment of some of the breakaway members.
The thesis here is that the NDC’s victory in the 2008 elections was a function of the division in its camp, and her boldness to allow the splinter group to go their way without a rapprochement. In other words, considering how competitive the 2008 general elections were, the NDC could have lost the elections to NPP’s Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo had she attempted to compel the displeased DFP members from leaving the NDC.
Had that happened, the conflict which was tearing the Party apart at the time would not have made it possible for the NDC to win the elections as she would not have had the peace of mind to prosecute the campaign because of the divided attention she would have been confronted with.
Meanwhile, even in government, the NDC was still faced with renewed conflicts, and for the third time in the Party’s history, she had suffered another breakaway when the then First National Vice-Chairperson and the Wife of the Founder of the Party who also doubled as the President of the 31st December Women’s Movement, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings after losing to Prof. John Evans Atta Mills, the incumbent President in the NDC flagbearership contest, broke ranks with the Party and founded her own Political Party National Democratic Party [NDP] to challenge the NDC in the 2012 elections.
She left with some grassroots of the NDC, and although there were attempts to talk her down from carrying out with her threat of leaving, that did not happen.
The NDC contested the 2012 elections with a Flagbearer who used about four months to campaign in the elections because of the unexpected demise of the Party’s original Flagbearer and incumbent President, Prof. John Mills. Gracefully, the NDC won the elections even in this divided front.
For the second time in its history, the Party had made a strong case that not all votes are important for a party to win elections as it was clear that she did not benefit from the votes of the breakaway faction.
The breakaway solidarized the front of the Party and added to some other factors such the sympathy brought about by the unexpected death of Prof. Mills to eventuate into a victory for the Party for the fourth time in this Republic.
The New Patriotic Party too had its major share of intra-party conflicts ahead of the 2016 general elections which its Flagbearer at the time was contesting for the third time in a row. Ahead of the 2016 general elections, the NPP held its national elections in Tamale and for the first time in its history, elected a Northern Party Financier and member, Mr Paul Afoko as its National Chairman; with Mr Sammy Crabbe and Mr Kwabena Agyapong as 2nd National Vice Chairman and General Secretary respectively.
Few months after this a historic election, cracks began to emerge in the Party with allegations of the three trying to work against the Party’s Flagbearer, Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo although the three denied the said allegations.
The three were pilloried by some members of the Party who bought into the allegations against them. With the Party on tight ropes as defeat in the 2016 elections could lead it into unchartered waters, it took an unpopular decision at the time to suspend the three National Executives by using the Party’s structures.
The decision was unpopular because it was the first time in the 4th Republic that a major Political Party had suspended its elected National Chairman, 2nd Vice National Chairman and a General Secretary.
Predictably, the issue created some confusion in the front of the then Opposition Party with some of the aggrieved parties seeking redress in the court.
Like the NDC before it, the NPP took this decision recognizing that these aggrieved party leaders had strong following whose votes it could lose because of disenchantment and disgruntlement as some of them might abstain from voting for the Party, voting ‘skirt and blouse’ or voting for their arch-rival, the NDC.
The Party took an expensive risk and sustained its decision. With this decision, the Party managed to restore some semblance of peace and order in the Party as members were whipped in line.
With this ‘peace,’ the Party was reinvigorated as it prosecuted its campaign with renewed vigour. By the 7th of December 2016 when the 7th General Elections of the 4th Republic of Ghana were held, the NPP had secured landslide victories in both the Presidential and the Parliamentary elections, thereby making nonsense of the adage, ‘all votes matter’ or ‘politics is all about numbers.’
The revelations above speak to the fact that much as Political Parties require the votes of all their members and sympathizers to be able to achieve their paramount objective of capturing political power so as to execute their mandate or manifesto, they must not compromise on party discipline.
Intra-party conflicts and indiscipline which become prolonged suck the blood of the party and derails it from its core agenda.
It is sometimes an important tool of some members to achieve their own future parochial interests. Thus, all votes are important to the success of political parties, but politics is not always about ‘numbers.’ Some ‘numbers’ are diversionary tools which political parties must not be keen on maintaining in their fold.
Let Political Parties be bold in enforcing intra-party discipline when efforts at reconciliation and conflict resolution fail.
Political Party members are free to disagree with the direction and policy decisions of their Parties, but this must not be done at the expense of party cohesion and the ambitions of the party.
The writer, Gborse Nicholas Mawunyah, is a writer and conference speaker on topical issues in education, political-history, school leadership and innovations.
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