Ghana

Soul-searching for Mahama after court verdict rejects challenge to Ghana polls

John Dramani Mahama (L) and Nana Akufo-Addo (R), the 2 main candidates for Ghana's presidential election
John Dramani Mahama (L) and Nana Akufo-Addo (R), the 2 main candidates for Ghana's presidential election AFP/Wikimedia CC

Ghana’s Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously dismissed opposition leader John Mahama’s petition against the results of the 2020 presidential polls. The ex-president, who ran against incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo, said he disagreed with the ruling.

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A ruling by Supreme Court judges said Mahama’s legal challenge did not meet the five criteria to overturn election results, which handed Akufo-Addo another term in office.

“The truth of what happened on 7 December has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court,” said Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah, Ghana’s information minister.

Akufo-Addo won the 7 December election taking 51.6% of the vote, with challenger Mahama securing 47.4%.

“Much as I'm aware that we're legally bound by the decision of the Supreme Court, I disagree with the process of the trial and the ruling of the court,” Mahama said, in reaction to the ruling.

Mahama’s case lay on questioning whether whether any of the candidates managed to score the more than 50% needed to secure the presidency.

Legal arguments from the opposition National Democratic Congress also alleged Nana Akufo-Addo benefited from arithmetic and computational errors.

Mistakes announcing results

The panel of seven judges decided electoral commission chief Jean Adukwei Mensa made a mistake in her declaration of figures, falsely inflating the number of total valid votes cast in a mix-up, but this was acknowledged as an error.

A question was raised over the hotly contested Techiman South constituency, in the centre of Ghana, where an argument raged over whether the ruling New Patriotic Party or opposition NDC won.

This was linked to the impact on the incumbent of winning 50% + 1 of the vote needed, but Akufo-Addo was judged to have secured this key threshold.

Mahama said the refusal by Mensa, the electoral commission head, to testify in the legal case “leaves a very bad precedent for the future", that the Supreme Court case ought to demand such testimony in high profile challenges to election results.

“Everything was done in this trial to prevent the commission from accounting to the people,” Mahama said, addressing the media following the ruling.

Vote counting after the presidential election, Accra, Ghana, 7 December 2020.
Vote counting after the presidential election, Accra, Ghana, 7 December 2020. AP - Ofoe Amegavie

Accusations levelled by the NDC about so-called “vote padding” or election rigging, which the court said it took very seriously, were not established, in a two hour ruling read by Chief Justice Kwasi Anin-Yeboah.

“We think it strengthens Ghana’s democracy, because all citizens get to watch and to satisfy themselves that a side was right and a side was wrong,” said Minister Oppong-Nkrumah, saying how the ruling demonstrates the transparency of the process.

The court’s verdict and decision not to re-run 2020 polls is a blow for Mahama and the opposition, according to one Ghana expert. Mahama was hoping the elections would bring him back into the country’s top job.

Introspection

“I think there’s going to have to be some pretty deep soul-searching within the NDC, the loss in the first place was obviously quite hard to swallow,” said Kobi Annan, a consultant for Songhai Advisory.

Annan said Mahama is unlikely to further challenge the result, and in fact the opposition’s legal arguments appeared quite spurious, with the case appearing “quite damning” against certain members of the NDC.

Akufo-Addo had previously challenged results, taking Mahama to court over his 2012 election victory. The Supreme Court then sided with incumbent President Mahama, against Akufo-Addo’s petition, however, the case dragged on a lot longer into 2013.

“I think he’ll be quite quiet for a while,” said political expert Annan, describing Mahama’s likely reflection on his role in Ghanaian politics after having returned to make another bid for Flagstaff House. The NDC party is likely to focus on rebuilding and looking at the lessons of the 2020 failure.

“It is time we all come together to confront those who seek to destroy the very democratic system that brought them into office,” Mahama said, accusing Akufo-Addo of misusing his power as incumbent to stay in office.

After becoming the first sitting Ghanaian president to be defeated for re-election in 2016, Mahama concentrated on a regional role, leading election observation mission for the African Union.

The verdict, although not ordering a re-run of the polls, did highlight some glaring errors in Ghana’s electoral process, such as the announcement of results and concerns over counting and declarations in the Techiman South constituency, according to Accra-based analyst Annan.

“The electoral commission didn’t exactly crown itself in glory,” he said, outlining how the election body needed to clarify some of the mistakes and errors made during the running of the polls.

Deadlock in parliament

Akufo-Addo now continues his second term in office free from the doubt of an overhanging legal challenge. “This obviously gives him the final, clear mandate to move everything forward,” said Annan.

Nevertheless, Akufo-Addo faces a hung parliament, with his party holding no clear majority to push through his legislative agenda. The two main parties both hold 137 seats following December’s vote, which also decided on lawmakers.

The country’s parliament was the scenes of scuffles and clashes last month between Ghanaian MPs over the election of the assembly’s speaker. The army had to intervene to break up fighting and stop violence.

It could be a challenge for the presidency in finding consensus amongst the parties in a deadlocked parliament, according to Songhai Advisory’s Annan. Although he said the recent vetting process for new ministers by parliamentarians perhaps reveals this might not be as big an obstacle as expected.

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