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April 13th, 2016
Cities • Justice

Ensuring an orderly presidential election in Ghana

Although the presidential elections held in Ghana since multi-party democracy was established in 1992 had been largely free of violence, the 2008 elections threatened to change that. The Ghanaian Electoral Commission took steps to ensure that the elections were peaceful as well as free and fair. They engaged national and international NGOs to monitor voting, set up a task force to ensure safety and security at polling stations, investigated electoral registrations and initiated public awareness campaigns. The outcome was a transparent, peaceful election whose result was not contested.

The initiative

The parties with an influence over the conduct of elections united to ensure a peaceful campaign. “The Electoral Commission (EC), civil society groups, NGOs and the international community took action to guarantee the fairness and peacefulness of the elections." [4] Their specific objectives were to:

  • Limit intimidation and violence during the campaign.
  • Achieve credibility and transparency.

First of all, the EC considered the registration process, making background checks, reviewing voting applications and other documents submitted, and eliminating 349,000 names from the electoral register.

The Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), an NGO comprising influential and respected Ghanaians, updated the electoral code of conduct, “adding regulations to limit abuse of incumbency and providing for national and regional enforcement bodies”. [5] The result was that the revised code “bound the parties to non-inflammatory behaviour, banned defamation and ‘provocative, derogatory and insulting attacks', and established regional boards with the power to reprimand violators publicly”. [6]

“The EC also worked with a special National Election Security Task Force to plan how to police the campaign period and the election itself.” [7] In the interests of transparency, the EC decided that “on the day of the election, instead of transporting all ballots to a central point for counting, tabulation would take place at each of the country's 22,000 polling centres”. [8]

The challenge

Ghana has been relatively free of election violence, unlike states such as Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, which have suffered rioting during election campaigns. “Since the advent of multi-party democracy in 1992, Ghana had held three consecutive elections that observers regarded as relatively free and fair.” [1]

The 2008 presidential race threatened to break with the history of peaceful electioneering. There were a number of areas of concern about these particular elections, including:

  • “The discovery of potentially vast offshore oil reserves increased the political stakes creating opportunities for enrichment and patronage.” [2]
  • “The political parties' [use of] some of the tactics that had precipitated large-scale violence in other African countries, including ethnic appeals, fearmongering and payoffs to voters.” [3]

The public impact

Although the country endured some tense moments during the campaign period, the elections concluded without disruption. The European Union (EU), one of the organisations monitoring the polls, was able to declare that “there were relatively few incidents of violence during both rounds of elections, and in nearly all of the country a peaceful environment was maintained”. [9]

Party agents asked for recounts at only a small percentage of polling stations (five percent in the first round, eight percent in the two-candidate presidential run-off), indicating a high degree of consensus. No subsequent challenges were made to the results of the election and “the results of the parallel vote tabulation [by the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO)] were nearly identical to the official tally”. [10]

Stakeholder engagement

The EC was the major stakeholder in maintaining peaceful elections. It was joined in this by a number of independent organisations, such as:

  • The IEA, the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) and the IDEG on the policy planning process.
  • The National Election Security Task Force, which brought together the Ghanaian police and other services.
  • International observers, such as the EU and the Carter Center, and national observers, such as CODEO.

Political commitment

The initiative was administered and coordinated by the EC, whose independence is guaranteed by the 1992 Ghana constitution. The current commission was established by the Electoral Commission Act (Act 451) of 1993. There was commitment by the government of the time, which legislated to guarantee the EC’s independence, and hence free and fair elections. The EC was allowed to pursue its function without overt interference from either the government or opposition parties, “although various political parties attempted to impugn the independence of the EC at one time or another”. [11]

Public confidence

Despite these attempts to influence the EC, “their efforts appeared to gain little traction among the public”. This was evident from “an Afrobarometer survey conducted in 2008, [which] found that 70% of the public expressed confidence in the organisation”. [12]

Clarity of objectives

The objectives stated at the outset were clear: to ensure a peaceful election campaign and free and fair elections. The fairness of the official election result was measurable, as CODEO was able to validate it from their own investigations.

Strength of evidence

The EC worked with the National Security Task Force to identify potential sources of violence. The task force then “developed contingency plans for various scenarios in which unrest or serious election violations might occur”. [13] The two organisations worked together the month before the election: “mock election exercises involving EC staff and security personnel took place in selected constituencies in mid-November to test preparedness”. [14]


The EC helped ensure the effective monitoring of election process by engaging other participants including CODEO, the EU and the Carter Center, as well as deploying its own staff.

One major concern was the difficulty of confirming ages and citizenship because many people lacked birth certificates. Later, this concern was resolved by making photo ids mandatory for voters.

There were concerns about the availability of police resources. “When Election Day arrived on 7 December, security was tightened significantly, although there was not enough manpower to maintain a permanent presence at each of the 22,000 polling stations. CODEO reported that about a third of the polling places lacked a police presence on Election Day.” [15]


The EC was headed by Kwadwo Afari-Gyan. “[He] was widely respected for his impartiality and probity. Afari-Gyan had been a prominent professor at the University of Ghana. After helping to draft the 1992 constitution and serving as deputy chairman of the Interim National Electoral Commission in the 1992 elections, in 1993 he became the Fourth Republic's first chairman of the EC, overseeing four subsequent elections in which he and the EC built a reputation as honest brokers.” [16]

The coordination with the other participants in maintaining peaceful and transparent elections, such as the security forces and the national and international NGOs, was also well managed.


There was no mechanism to measure the relative amounts of violence during the election campaign and voting. However, there were careful assessments of the conduct of voting at the polling booths, which was carried out by organisations such as CODEO, the EU and the Carter Center and the EC itself. “CODEO conducted a parallel vote survey by tallying the vote in 1,000 polling stations across the country to check the Electoral Commission's stated results.” [17]

This parallel vote tallying was extremely important in measuring the accuracy of the EC's official result. “The results of the parallel vote tabulation were nearly identical to the official tally. In the first round, the tally was within 1% of the official results, while in the presidential run-off the tally deviated by only .06% for each candidate. According to Vincent Crabbe, co-chairman of CODEO at the time, this ‘contribution in validating the process was of fundamental importance,' as it made the results more secure against challenge.” [18]


The EC coordinated the activities of the many actors in the initiative, who were all aligned towards the objectives of fair and peaceful elections.

International organisations, CODEO and the EC monitored the voting at polling booths. “CODEO operated as an umbrella for 34 civil-society organisations that helped to train and deploy thousands of election observers (4,000 in 2008).” [19]

The CDD assumed responsibility for raising the money for election observation and coordinated the efforts.

The EC helped created the Task Force (see Stakeholder engagement above). "Although the police service took the lead in the task force, it was assisted by the armed forces, National Security, the Bureau of National Investigations, the Fire Service, the Immigration Service, and the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service.” [20] The Task Force also worked with the media to encourage citizens to watch the election results at home rather than in the streets.

The voters themselves largely observed the requests to conduct the election peacefully.

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