Why members of parliament in Ghana can get away with ignoring voters

Ghana has invested heavily in its parliamentary democracy.
Delali-Adogla Bessa/Shutterstock

Martin Acheampong, University of Bamberg

When Ghana turned to democracy in 1992 after many years of military rule, there were expectations that the people would choose their leaders. Ghanaians also expected to see a closer relationship between citizens and the state, making members of the legislature more sensitive to their needs.

Democracy has generally flourished in Ghana. Freedom House’s rankings have consistently marked Ghana as “free” since 2000.

But the country has yet to entrench some key aspects of democratic governance. One example is the disconnect between the people and their representatives in parliament. Public opinion surveys conducted by Afrobarometer show a wide gap between the two. For instance, between 2002 and 2013, an average of 85.8% of Ghanaians had no contact with their representatives in parliament.

Ghanaian voters indicate that their legislators spend little time in the constituency. Even when they do, they tend not to listen to the concerns of voters. This gap is a problem because modern democracy relies on representative institutions. The very foundations of democracy could be shaken if citizens do not feel adequately represented.

I set out to investigate this disconnect. Other studies exist, but none has examined the role of patronage networks mediating legislators’ pathway to power in Ghana.

I found that a major contributing factor to the gap between legislators and their constituents in Ghana is the strong presence of patronage networks in primaries within the parties. The way the two main political parties, the New Patriotic Party and the National Democratic Congress, select parliamentary candidates for general elections makes it possible for patronage networks to hijack electoral processes.

Internal party competition

Parliamentarians in Ghana, as everywhere else, do not emerge out of the blue. Political parties have established procedures for selecting candidates. Internal party primaries have been the main avenue for selecting parliamentary aspirants since the early 2000s.

But the very nature of these internal competitions creates a cohort of legislators who can easily circumvent voters’ “punishment” if they don’t perform.

To become an MP in Ghana on the main parties’ tickets, aspirants must apply to designated constituency committees and be vetted by the regional and national party. Where more than one aspirant passes this stage, they are presented to the party’s delegates at a conference for a deciding vote. The small number of delegates who vote in these internal contests is a recipe for patronage. It’s easy for aspiring candidates to buy the support and loyalty of these delegates.

In recent cases, some aspirants have gone as far as buying cars to woo the delegates. Internal party primaries in Ghana are usually devoid of programmatic appeals. A candidate who campaigns solely on programmes and doesn’t issue any material benefits will most likely lose. A candidate whose campaign relies solely on handing out material goods is likely to win even if his or her campaign contains zero programmes.

Therefore, the ability to award personal favours like pocket money, school fees, funeral donations, television sets and so on to party delegates becomes the exclusive focus of these party competitions. The road to parliament in Ghana gets smoother for the highest bidder than for the candidate with the most elaborate policies.

This places the power to determine the future of an MP in the hands of party delegates, not the electorate. After all, winning the primaries means a free ticket to parliament in many constituencies.

This is more so because more than 60% of the 275 seats in parliament are safe for either the New Patriotic Party or the National Democratic Congress. The huge number of constituencies that are dominated by either of these two parties give MPs the incentive to concentrate more on local party delegates than the entire constituency voters. The voice of constituency voters, therefore, gets trumped by that of the party delegates.

What is the way forward?

To make constituency votes matter, the focus should be on reviewing internal party contests which determine who stands as an MP.

In emerging democracies, there are hardly any national laws regulating how parties select their candidates. In Ghana, the constitution says political parties must ensure that their internal processes conform to democratic standards. But there’s no legislation spelling out how they should choose their candidates.

Ghana could follow the examples of Germany, the United States, New Zealand and Finland in regulating internal party competitions. The focus should be on the inclusivity of mechanisms to select candidates within parties. For example, all party members or even the entire constituency of voters can participate in the selection of candidate MPs.

An open candidate selection process would provide less incentive to reward a few party delegates and neglect the constituency. With more participants, candidate MPs wouldn’t have enough money to buy everybody. This would force candidate MPs to campaign on the basis of policies that benefit the entire constituency. Also, to be reelected, MPs would have to build a good relationship with their constituencies, not with internal party oligarchies.The Conversation

Martin Acheampong, Doctoral Fellow, Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences, University of Bamberg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ghana: Grace Baptist Mission Update

I have been working on updating the Ghana page over at particularbaptist.com, which can be found at http://particularbaptist.com/wider/ghana.html. All of the updates concerning the work at Grace Baptist Mission in Ghana can be found via http://www.gracebaptistmissionghana.org/currentevents.html

Ghana: Grace Baptist Mission Update

The link below is to a pdf mission update newsletter concerning the ongoing work of the Grace Baptist Mission in Ghana. There has been some terrible news, with a fire destroying a large part of the school.

For more visit:

Visit the Grace Baptist Mission – Ghana website at:


Ghana’s Vice President, John Mahama, has secured the release of Daniel Baidoo, a Ghanaian evangelist based in Libya, who was serving a 25-year jail term for circulating Christian tracts in Arabic in that country, reports Daniel Abugah, special to ASSIST News Service.

The release followed Mr. Mahama’s three-day visit to Libya after he had presented the clemency request for the release of Baidoo to the Libyan Leader, Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi, through Dr. Al-Sayeed, a Libyan Envoy who called on him at his office at the Castle, Osu in Accra.

Vice President Mahama had held discussions with the special envoy where he presented a formal letter appealing for clemency through the Libyan Embassy in Accra to the Libyan Leader before he traveled to that country.

Baidoo was serving his term at Jedidah Maximum Security Prison after he was arrested in 2001. He was arrested at the Garyan Post Office in Libya when he collected a parcel said to contain Bible documents in Arabic, which he had ordered from a Christian organization in the US.

Under Libyan Law, it is an offence to witness or try to convert a Libyan into another religion other than Islam.

Report from the Christian Telegraph


President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana has instructed authorities of basic schools in the country to revisit the teaching of Religious and Moral Education (RME), which hitherto had been removed from the syllabus, reports Daniel Abugah, special to ASSIST News Service.

President Kufuor made the call when he addressed school children at the country’s 51st Independence Day celebration. The call was in response to persistent calls made particularly by Christians and Muslims for reintroduction of the subject in the schools’ curricular.

The president expressed displeasure about the negative moral impact of globalization on the youth through the mass media. He therefore urged the school children to balance their academic learning with that of their moral duty.

“The television, the Internet and other modern gadgetry undermine cultures and moral values. The result is that humanity is already confronted with the challenge of a serious split between knowledge and morality. Unless mankind finds a way to overcome this challenge, there is a real danger of it becoming less than human.

It is for this reason that government has decided to revisit the reinstatement of Religious and Moral Education in the school curriculum”, President Kufour told the students. He added that no matter the academic and professional acclode they achieved, the best education in the end is the one that would enable them to appreciate the common dignity of man; stand up for what is right and be each other’s keeper.

The general secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana, Rev. Dr. Fred Degbee in an interview with Radio Ghana commended the action of the president. He said religion and morality were the signal light of the world, and they should be encouraged at every level of society.

Whilst Christians and Muslims embraced the directive of the president to reintroduce the RME into the basic school’s curriculum, a traditional African religious group, the Africanian Mission, did not see the idea as good news. For them the teaching of RME would promote foreign culture at the expense of African values.

RME which was introduced into the syllabus of Upper Primary and Junior Secondary Schools (now Junior High School) some years ago, aimed to encourage the sense of moral values among school children in the country. But it was removed last year as a result of new educational reforms in the country.

Report from the Christian Telegraph


For all the news of what is happening in Ghana with the Grace Baptist Mission under the ministry of Pastor Noah Quarshie visit the web site (the URL is given at the end of the post).

All of the newsletters can be found on the web site with an archive going back to 2001. So for all the latest be sure to check out the newsletters.

The Grace Baptist Mission is keen for partnerships in the gospel to be forged, with assistance in various ways required for the furtherance of the gospel in Ghana. If you are able to assist by giving money for specific needs, the newsletters give updates on what the current needs are. There are also possible openings for actually going to Ghana and physically assisting in the ministry for a period of time.

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