The electoral history of Ghana’s 4th republic shows a gradual waning in support for the smaller parties that seek to challenge the dominance of the NPP and NDC. In 1996, the PNC won about 3% of all votes cast. In 2016, their share of the vote was a paltry 0.2%. Rather than gain strength in support over time, the PNC like most parties has faded into near oblivion.
This sad tale of the electoral decline of the so-called 3rd parties extends beyond the Presidential race. The 1996 elections saw these smaller parties winning 6 out of the 200 seats available. In 2000, that number climbed to 9. But by 2017, there wasn’t a single seat in parliament not held by the NPP or NDC.
As tragic as this tale of the 3rd parties might seem, there might yet remain a remote possibility for hope. In the 2012 elections, the newly formed Progressive Peoples Party won 0.58% of total votes cast. Four year’s later, the party almost doubled its share to 1.07%. And this was in spite of the last minute setbacks the party faced with the temporary disqualification of its flag bearer. Could this have been a mere fluke or could the PPP be on to something here?
Perhaps, no one area of Ghana symbolizes the possibilities of electoral success for the PPP than the constituency of Komenda Edina Eguafo Abirem (KEEA). The 2016 parliamentary elections in KEEA saw the NDC win back control of the seat from the NPP by fielding the Honorable Samuel Atta Mills. Missing in the details of that constituency election is the outstanding performance of the PPP. From 2012 to 2016, the PPP grew its share of the vote from 10.7% to 33%. Keep in mind, the Honorable Atta Mills won with only 38.7% of the votes; a mere 5 points above the PPP’s candidate.
So what gives for the PPP’s stunning rise in KEEA? In 2004, the constituency was represented by Papa Kwesi Ndoum, who won 66.8% of the votes cast as the CPP’s parliamentary candidate. Eight years later, Dr. Ndoum will go on to found the PPP.
Given the perennial shift in support towards the NPP and NDC, it is indeed a near impossibility for a 3rd party presidential candidate to win the elections. Winning the national vote requires a party apparatus that extends across the length and breadth of the nation and down to the local level.
Having a robust political presence at the local level is what enables one to drum up support, build out a platform for presenting governance plans that directly appeal to citizens of that locality and ultimately turn out voters on Election Day. Without that local component, a presidential campaign is dead on arrival.
It follows then, that the smartest strategy for these 3rd parties will be to first build up a robust local base before working their way up to winning the national vote. There is no better place to start than the kind of parliamentary seat that KEEA represents. It is a decidedly swing constituency in a very swing region. And for the PPP, coming within striking distance of a win in 2016 should serve as tangible proof that given the right conditions and with the right kind of campaign, that seat in particular could flip. And even if that’s the only win for the party in 2020, it will be more than mere consolation. It represents the first of many seats that could topple as the party builds out its political machinery at the local level.
For the PPP (or any other 3rd party) to have a realistic shot at winning the presidency someday, it first needs to build out a parliamentary base to a point where neither the NDC nor NPP can wield an easy majority. That magic number is 38 seats out of the present 275. Winning 38 seats when you’re starting from 0 is not something that easily happens in one election cycle. But as a medium term goal for the party, I think it is doable. And if the day comes when legislating in Ghana requires a deal between 2 parties, then the 3rd parties will have a seat at the table. And the show can truly begin!