Election 2024: Resolving NDC, EC Trust Issue

The National Chairman of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Mr Johnson Asiedu Nketiah, during a press conference on May 9, raised concerns about the ongoing limited registration exercise and said the following:

 “Ladies and gentlemen, we do not expect the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana to act as the conduit through which Akufo-Addo will implement his avowed determination not to hand over power to the visionary, experienced and trustworthy John Dramani Mahama.

NPP must choose peaceful transfer of power from NPP to NDC in their own interest.”  Prof. Naana Jane Opoku Agyeman, the NDC running mate, also had the following to say about the Electoral Commission recently– “EC, I address you directly: it is in the national interest, and your own interest, that you make transparent what has been and is going on at your establishment.

The truth will not be suppressed. You cannot be so independent as to disregard the people who validate your existence. That does not exist anywhere.” These and other recent statements by known NDC voices signal clearly that the relationship between Ghana’s main opposition party and the Electoral Commission has become very frosty. At the heart of this frosty relationship is trust. The NDC does not trust the EC.

The EC’s Trust Headaches
Putting aside the NDC’s issues with the EC for a moment, the institution is facing a major trust deficit as per sentiments expressed by Ghanaians. In the most recent Afrobarometer survey (Round 9, 2022), only thirty-six per cent (36%) of Ghanaians expressed having “a lot/somewhat” trust in the EC.

Among those who described themselves as feeling close to the NDC, only six per cent (6%) expressed having “a lot” of trust, with another seventeen per cent (17%) having “somewhat” trust in the EC.

Among those who described themselves as feeling close to the NPP, seventeen per cent (17%) expressed having “a lot” of trust, with another thirty-four per cent (34%) having “somewhat” trust in the EC.

The table below shows how much trust (a lot/somewhat) Ghanaians have expressed in the EC across nine rounds of the Afrobarometer survey. The table also shows the level of trust by party affiliation.

As per the table above, the EC’s trust deficit has manifested itself in three key ways – a) Overall, trust in the institution has deteriorated over time, especially between its highest level of trust (2005) and the most recent level (2022); b) trust in the institution among partisans shifts between when their preferred political party is in power (increases) and in opposition (decreases); and c) the partisan nature of trust in the EC has sharpened.

Let me illustrate the third point further. When you examine the average trust in the EC during the Dr Afari Gyan era (Afrobarometer 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2012, 2014) the trust gap between NDC and NPP partisans was seven percentage points.

 NDC partisans had slightly more trust in the institution than NPP partisans. During the Madam Charlotte Osei era (Afrobarometer 2017), there was no significant trust gap between the two partisans.

 Under Madam Jean Mensa (Afrobarometer 2019, 2022), the trust gap is a significant twenty-five percentage points, with NPP partisans having greater trust in the institution than NDC partisans.

The road ahead
Back to the NDC’s frosty relationship with the EC, which saddens and worries me as we prepare for the 2024 presidential and parliamentary elections. it appears that feelings developed by NDC after the 2020 elections have persisted.

 I was encouraged when the party returned to the Inter Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) after a long period of absence. It was the most positive signal that the NDC was ready to engage the EC and give an improved relationship between the two a chance.

Two things will have to happen. First, the EC must find a way to balance the demands of the NDC and other political parties over the next several months, with the need to also protect its independence as guaranteed by the constitution. Public administration is both a science and an art. In the current situation, a lot more art is needed to thaw the frostiness.

Secondly, mediation may be necessary sooner than later. A fair and impartial arbiter is needed to facilitate dialogue between the two to resolve the key underlying issues causing the mistrust.

The goal is simple – the NDC must feel it is being treated fairly and the EC must feel it is not ceding its independence. The road ahead is not easy, but this is critical and must be addressed sooner than later.

The writer is the Executive Director, Democracy Project, a Think Tank