Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ghana election results: is a "one touch" victory possible?

With only 55 of 275 constituencies called on Ghana's most reliable news source (myjoyonline) the results remain far too close for any decisive prediction. From these 55 the NDC candidate incumbent President John Mahama is winning, however given how votes are regionally distributed in Ghana little can be confirmed without more constituencies' results. Throughout the campaign everyone knew it would be close, and indeed it looks like if any candidate takes victory it will be with a roughly 1 or 2 percent margin of victory or less. Two big questions are taking over Ghana's newswaves today. Firstly, will either candidate get over 50 percent of the votes and win the presidency "one touch"? Secondly, is Ghana heading for a divided government with opposing parties taking the presidency and winning a majority in the parliament? This would be unprecedented in Ghana's democratic history.

In order to win the first round ("one touch") the presidential candidate must get over 50 percent of all votes. In 2008 no candidate achieved this which led to a second round. Ghana also saw a second round in 2000 when President Kufour was also unable to get over 50 percent in the first round. If no candidate wins today the second round will be on 28th December.

The NPP campaign manager has confidently informed the public that NPP has secured a one touch victory. They claim that a massive turnout in the Ashanti region (over 80 percent), their stronghold, as well as a reduced turnout in the Volta region, the NDC's stronghold, will help them secure victory. The party claims only 1 percent of stations are continuing voting today and conclude that the process has be largely successful. Dr Afari-Gyan chairman of the Ghana Electoral Commission has also claimed the election to be Ghana's most successful On record. Indeed, the introduction of a new biometric system across the country with minimal problems seems like a great achievement for the EC.

Keep up to date on results here:

Will try to update as we hear more.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ballots, boxes and biometric verification: election logistics in Ghana

Today I travelled with a team of CODEO/UCLA enumerators to interview political party agents at polling stations in rural parts of the Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo regions. Most of these stations had between 100-350 registered voters and things were pretty quiet. All locations had a police officer overseeing the proceedings as well as EC officials in their blue jackets. Despite the remoteness of the polling stations, in villages without tarred roads or electricity, it was amazing to see that all the election materials had been successfully deposited. This included electronic voter verification machines at each station. Earlier this year Ghana composed a biometric vote register, and with fingerprints already captured, today all voters had to verify their ID using the machine. As the adverts in Ghana have been saying: no verification, no vote.

Problems with the verification machines in some parts of the country has led to a continuation of the polls tomorrow. However, nowhere we visited was there a problem.

Ghana is famed across Africa for its well conducted election and today I saw much evidence of this The ballot boxes remain transparent, the voting slips printed in colored ink with large boxes for easy thumb printing and photos of candidates (way simpler and user friendly than slips in UK and US), and all ballot counting is done in public at the close of the polls. Despite some problems with the verification machine it appears Ghana's election logistics remain quite remarkable, and with 26,000 stations to cover this is no insignificant achievement. Tonight all eyes are on the swing regions to see if NDC will retain Greater Accra, Western and Central or whether they will swing back to the NPP. Tonight, it is far too close to call and it will most likely be Sunday until final results are out.

Below: photo of voter using verification machine, polling station in Brong-Ahafo, rejected ballot with two candidates marked (sadly saw quite a few of these).

Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO)

The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) has dispatched 4,000 non-partisan and independent observers across the country to independently verify the veracity of the election results. Before 8.00AM when polls opened, 87% of observers were at their stations.

Each observer will SMS information to the data centre in Accra throughout the day.

Within this 4,000, there are a random selection of roughly 1,500 observers whose results direct from polling stations will be used to project the results as part of a nationwide Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT). This is the second time Ghana is conducting a PVT. 

For more, check out: and

Photo: George in CODEO uniform heading to assist with transport in Bia East, Western region.

Ghana goes to the polls

Polling stations opened up at 8am as Ghanaians head to the polls. We will be bringing live updates from the Ashanti and Western regions where George and I will be today. We are heading to the most remote parts of these regions to assist a team of domestic UCLA /CODEO election observers. Most people are predicting a second round, neither candidate has a clear margin over the other. The second round should it happen which will be held on 28th December. Stay tuned for photos from today's events...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NDC: John Mahama as Ghana's new action man

Following Atta-Mills' death the NDC had the challenge of re-branding themselves and selling their new flag bearer, John Mahama, to the public. 

NDC first released posters mourning Mills' death, vigorously followed by freshly printed campaign posters of Mahama which have been plastered across Accra and beyond. 

As shown in the photos below NDC's tactic has been to suggest the continuity that John Mahama (Mills' VP) represents, as well as trying to promote his image as Ghana's new man of action. Young, articulate, and easy on the eye, the NDC have had a pretty easy job of selling their new candidate. 

Billboard of John Atta-Mills handing over the baton to John Mahama (Osu, Accra).

Billboard of Mahama- Man of Action! (North Airport Residential, Accra) 

Next up: NPP billboards... 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Use of SMS Technology in Ghana's Provisional Voter Register Exhibition

On September 3, 2012 the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana launched another technological tool in its effort to expand access to the Provisional Voters Register (PVR). The new technological platform employs the use of SMS technology to allow voters to text in to check that their names and other details have been properly captured on the newly composed Voters Register. 

This launch comes at the back of the successful completion of the country’s maiden Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) exercise that was held from 24th March to 5th May of this year in which the EC compiled a brand new voter register. Concurrently, the EC is holding a 10-days exhibition of the PVR (September 1st and 10th, 2012) at all polling stations across the country. This exercise similarly enables prospective voters to confirm their personal details and to provide any additional information where necessary.  The exhibition of the PVR exercise is also to help expunge names of unqualified or deceased persons from the voters’ list.

Beginning from today, until the conduct of election on December 7, 2012, voters from across the country on all mobile phone networks can text in their voter’s identification number to a mobile short code (1413) and in return receive an SMS message containing their Voter Identification number, name, polling station, age, sex, constituency, district and region. However, voters will not have their electronic photos as captured by the EC displayed. Voters, who have problems with the information as captured in the voter register and received via SMS, are then advised to visit their polling station to seek assistance of EC officials to correct any errors. According to the Electoral Commission, the system has all the necessary security features to guard against potential hacking and thus should help allay fears of citizens and political parties of possible dangers that may be associated with this expansion of access to the PVR.

On the face of it, the EC’s SMS platform designed to facilitate information flow between the EC and the general public, is a laudable initiative. However, arguably, this exercise is flawed, in numerous ways.  

Firstly, although the donor world (and indeed it is the UNDP that funded this project) have eagerly embraced mobile technology as the latest tool to “empower citizens”, it should be recognized that there are limits to how successfully citizen-based SMS projects can be executed. The fifth round of the Afrobaromter (2012) indeed shows that only 36% of Ghanaians ever used SMS when communicating, and the vast majority instead relies on voice calls. This suggests that for all of its efforts and related costs, the EC may be targeting a relatively small voter population. Arguably, the money could have been better spent educating citizens on the importance of visiting polling stations, organizing community meetings for voters to check the register, supporting a free voice hotline to allow voters to verify their details, and allowing for a longer exhibition of the voters register.

Secondly, the project has been launched very late in the day, after two days of the ten-day voter exhibition at polling stations has already been completed. Furthermore, there has been no public education on this new service and a lack of advertising. As it stands, voters are likely to be confused as to how to verify their Voter ID detail, that is whether to use the mobile phone text messaging method or visit their polling centers. Although the EC has printed thousands of pamphlets to advertise the service it is difficult to see how these will reach the average rural voter in Ghana and once they do reach them the physical exhibition of the register is likely to be closed. In this case it is not clear how citizens are supposed to communicate with the EC if their registration details are missing or incorrect.

Thirdly, given the relatively low level of literacy among Ghanaian voting population it is unclear how they would be able to accurately check their information on the voter’s ID card and that sent to them via the SMS text message.  

Lastly, the cost of the SMS service provided by EC’s technology partner, Mobile Content.Com Ltd, is relatively expensive An SMS message to the short code provide the EC will cost a voter GHC 0.30, compared to the usual GHC 0.02-0.03 prices of SMS in Ghana. Furthermore, this price is not advertised on the pamphlet. In not displaying the cost many citizens may be unwilling to text the number worried that it will cost a lot. This may therefore reduce participation in the process and therefore defeat the intended purpose of this introduction.

Moving forward, the EC should endeavor to intensify its public education on the ongoing exhibition exercise and get voters to physically crosscheck their information at their polling stations. In this way, voters will be sure of which polling station they will be able to cast their ballot and mitigate the difficulties of locating ones polling stations on December 7.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

“Uncle Atta” dead, as Ghana swears in Vice-President Mahama

Today, 24th July 2012, President John Evans Atta-Mills passed away while in hospital in Accra after a long battle with throat cancer. Aides report that he had been admitted to 37 Military Hospital hours before, after complaining of pains the previous day. The Presidential Office made a press statement to report the “sudden and untimely death of the President of the Republic of Ghana”. Mills’ death comes just four months before what are predicted to be highly competitive presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 7th December. Atta-Mills’ death follows in the wake of other recent presidents in Africa to die while in office including Malawi’s president Bingu wa Mutharika earlier this year, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in Nigeria in 2010 and Zambia’s President Levy Mwanawasa in late 2008.  It is a testament to the increasing acceptance of the formal rules of democracy that as per constitutional provisions, in each of these cases the vice-president has taken office. Indeed in Ghana, within hours of reports of his death an emergency meeting was called at Parliament and at 18.00 GMT on the same day Ghana’s Vice-President John Dramani Mahama was sworn in.

The health of the president had been a regular news topic in Ghana even before Atta-Mills took office in 2008. Over the last four years there were frequent reports of his deteriorating health including increasing loss of vision and shortness of breath. The president and ruling party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), knew the president’s health was becoming a concern to voters and following his last check up in the U.S.A. Mills, in an out-of-character theatrical display, did a short jog on the landing strip when he set down at Kotoka International Airport. Increasingly however, Atta-Mills shied away from public meetings and recently declined his invitation to speak at the nationwide televised presidential candidate debates organized by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).  Earlier this week the NDC began to state that Mills would not address the crowds during the 2012 campaign rallies across the country, but would sit and wave on the podium.

Atta-Mills will be remembered as a fatherly president, nicknamed “Uncle Atta” and famed for beginning his public addresses with the phrase “My brothers and sisters”. He spoke slowly and gently and his relatively simple demeanor helped his 2008 platform as a man with an incorruptible nature and good intentions for office. Mills will be remembered for overseeing the introduction of important legislation to Ghana perhaps most notably the Petroleum Revenue Management Act, 2011 which spells out in clear terms how Ghana’s new oil revenues should be managed, including the establishment of a stabilization and heritage fund, stringent internal auditing, and the creation of a Public Interest and Accountability Committee whose latest report Revenue Watch International say “sets a new standard for accountability” in Africa. Domestically, Mills’ attempt to reorganise the pay structure of the public sector with a move to a “single-spine” pay scale, as well as establishing a national commission to review Ghana’s current constitution were also highly popular moves.  

For political analysts the death of Ghana’s president means that the next few weeks and months will be highly interesting. The main opposition party (the National Patriotic Party) have expressed their condolences and stopped their campaign tour. Today the NDC has been quiet on how it will proceed, although discussions are emerging to schedule a party congress to select the new flag bearer. It is difficult to see how the newly incumbent president John Mahama, popular both inside the party (although factions do exist) and with voters, will not win the ticket. If Mahama wins who he runs with will be the next big question. The Rawling’s family have displayed clear ambitions to regain a central position in the NDC with Nana Konadu (wife of ex-president Rawlings) competing against Mills in the NDC flag bearer elections last year. Although she received only 3 percent of delegate votes, ex-President Rawlings remains popular on the campaign trail and many inside the NDC would prefer to retain their alliance with him. For the Rawlings’, prior to the death of Mills they have been in the process of establishing their own party with its inauguration date set for 15th August.  Now it remains to be seen whether the NDC will make a final attempt at trying to re-establish an alliance with President Rawlings and his wife or take them on in the December election. At least for today however, election fever has respectfully ceased in Ghana as Uncle Atta is remembered.

For more information on John Mahama check out his recently published book semi-autobiographical book: