Tuesday, January 27, 2015


We often hear political commentators say “oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them”. What a load of bollocks. A well organized, highly disciplined and clear thinking opposition can take a term or two from just about any government.  Politicians and political advisers must never stop believing that an opposition can win the next election. 

Opposition can always snatch power from even the most entrenched government basking in euphoria of massive public good-will.  How the Republicans in United States recently recaptured control of the U.S. Senate and expanded their edge in the House of Representatives, giving them a majority in both houses of Congress for the final two years of President Barack Obama's presidency tell us that everything is possible in politics.

In recent times, the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) members of parliament have come under heavy barrage of criticism for not effectively holding the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) government to account to Ghanaians from their first day. It seems the honeymoon given to the NDC is still in motion. Almost all the scathing criticism of the government has emanated from the Party`s communication outfits and other political organizations and individuals with NPP sympathies. 

Last year, Mr. Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, editor of Statesman went to town on the MPs lackadaisical attitude towards the struggle and activities of their party.  The criticism suddenly awakened the MPS, and in an unprecedented manner joined the pressure group, Alliance For Accountable Governance (AFAG) to stage the “Agbeii wo” demonstration. Until Mr. Otchere-Darko took the MPs to the cleaners, they have not been taken active part in demonstrations organized by AFAG.  It was as if the MPs needed a serious push from its constituents to be effective. 

Why is the NPP MPs perceived as non-performing? In order to be able to hold the government to account, opposition as the direct representative of the people need to perform their watchdog role and bring out any secret deal the government undertake at the blindside of the populace. In performing their parliamentary functions, the MPs also owe their constituents and the party on which ticket they were elected into the chamber.  Most often the MPs get so engrossed with their parliamentary functions more than their allegiance and work towards their party. It is when this situation rises that, the supporters of their party quickly get angry at the MPs for their total neglect. 

However, let us also not lose sight of the fact that one of the reasons why political parties find it so hard to rally all its MPs/legislative members to tow party lines is that, parties no longer have any control over who runs for office. In the modern politics, as practiced in Ghana, elections are “candidate centered.”  Candidates choose to run, raise their own funds, build their own organizations and win elections largely on their own, without significant help from a political party. It presupposes that parties have little control over the candidates that run under its labels. 

Since 2009, Honourable Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonso, the minority Leader had had difficult time organizing the NPP MPS to follow party lines. Even in election times the party structures cannot control the MPs and sometimes are forced to make concessions to them. Though the party tries hard to generate funds for the aspiring candidates to execute their campaign, but that money is woefully in adequate, as a result the money-bag aspiring MPs and sitting MPS also make serious demands of the party. These demands when not met, makes the candidates to do things their own way and that behavior festers on after the elections.

Lobbyist organizations and corporate institutions that supports a particular candidate for a particular constituency as a result of its business interest in the MP`s constituency or a national policy or bill serves as complete hindrance on the MP to kowtow to party lines. In such situation, where a particular issue is of paramount interest to the party but it will affect the interest of the clandestine financial backers of the MP, the MP is most likely to be mute on the issue. This is a serious happening currently going on in our democratic exercise but much attention has not been given to it.

One other major factor is also the creation or existence of safe seats. Most MPs that occupies the safe seats are the notorious slackers when it comes to working assiduously to the benefit of their party. They tend to be lazy and prefer to sit on radio stations in Accra, rather than to visit their constituencies regularly to preach the policies alternatives of their party and attacking the government of its electoral failures, corruption and mismanagement of the economy. 

But are the MPs the only ones that must be blamed for recent NPP`s inaction and effective opposition to NDC?  An NPP MP told me last year that “Here is the hard truth: something we are doing isn’t quite working. Let’s now put aside any notion that the media are going to carry our message to the public over the next two years. They are not.”  He was pissed off that most blames are placed on the bosom of NPP MP`s for not helping the party, when the focus should be on the grassroot mobilization. He opined that the making NPP buoyant and effective critic of the NDC regime is not only the prerogative of the MPs and few party heads at the Headquarters, but the party must challenge the grassroots to help polish the its image with a plan to enlist at least 2,000 “Patriotic ambassadors” to bypass the media by speaking to one million voters — two per day for each volunteer — by 2016. 

In his view if NPP push for 100 supporters to take a lead and start a personal blog about the party’s positions NPP can capture the entire reading public and internet user-voters. He told me “Write your blog. Write letters to the editor. Call in to the local radio talk show. Talk about why you support NPP and submit ideas for 100 changes to be implement in 100 days if the NPP forms a government".

Whilst I share the laudable ideas of the MP, I am still of the opinion that the MPs have an advantage of criticizing the government and exposing corruption to undermine it. This can only be done when the MPs get organized by having a Secretariat, where every staff member is selected on merit – in opposition there can be no passengers. That also means taking pragmatic steps to engage advisers with the most important policy, press and forensic skills to assist them.  The Secretariat must have a staff and on the frontbench a mix of youthful enthusiasm and experienced operators.  As the saying goes, “War-gaming” and forward planning should be part of NPPs, weekly routine.

The MPs must come to the realization that an effective opposition is more akin to an insurgent force than a standing army and they must therefore be prepared to do detailed research on the shortcomings of the government and its members,. Their Shadow Cabinet system must be re-branded to make it possible to have a weekly meetings and properly drafted policy papers circulated well in advance of the meeting. Conscious effect must be made by the MPs to reconnect with the electorate – particularly those who left them at the election.  All attempts must be taken to avoid ‘Do repetition of the sins of office from opposition'.
The NPP MPS need to initiate serious business of policy development early and reach out to those groups NPP probably stopped listening to in government.  Gathering around as many outside sources of advice as possible will engender a growing band of useful and well informed experts in any number of areas who will happily give up their time to assist the party.

Most importantly, NPP MPs have to get down to the business of constant campaigning on every platform that is avail to them. Elections are won by those who campaign from the first day in the term, not from the day the election is called. However, effective campaigning requires discipline and adherence to processes by making sure media monitoring never misses a day and valuable clips are collected, catalogued and stored.
Constant campaigning is only effective if NPP MPs are willing do all the things listed above, alongside what their party is also doing simultaneously. There are no shortcuts to winning office.  NPP MPs need to learn from what the Republican Party utilized to effectively clinch a majority victory at the Congress. 

As Jonathan Chait rightly observed,: “The GOP has withheld cooperation from every major element of President Obama’s agenda, beginning with the stimulus, through health-care reform, financial regulation, the environment, long-term debt reduction, and so on. That stance has worked extremely well as a political strategy. Most people pay little attention to politics and tend to hold the president responsible for outcomes. If Republicans turn every issue into an intractable partisan scrum, people get frustrated with the status quo and take out their frustration on the president’s party. It’s a formula, but it works.”

NPP MPs must make itself as a useful catalyst for the party to use the next one and half years to show they are a party of government, and not a lazy ideologues, opportunistic and selfish leaders who only care about their own welfare. NPP itself must show that they can govern and that the public need to trust them by going to the every hook and cranny of the country, with a simple message: ‘time for a change!” This is not only a valid way to proceed, it’s a pretty likely outcome.

My own feeling is that both the MPs and the party should pour major energy into extra-opposition activism and prioritize elevating the voice of activists. Instead of a Minority Leader or the Chief Whip and the National party heads being a person sitting in a palace office, like a potentate, what these personalities must rather do is to find a way to live and work among the people and be subjected to their pressures.  That would be a valuable step.

The NPP must know that governments thrive on divided opposition, especially the visceral internal divisions in the main opposition group. It makes it easy for the incumbent to win elections by fair or foul means. 2012 elections is a valuable epitome of what a fundamental flaws in internal party work and lukewarm attitude of MPs refusing to go back to their constituencies to campaign on the ground can affect our electoral chances.
I know old habits are strong. In fact, old pressures of institutions cannot be overcome in a day as individuals and organizations tend to be persistent and preservationist. We all carry baggage. But, with enough popular energy and pressure, I think we can succeed. As activist and educator Effie Jones once said, "Failing to plan is planning to fail." 

We in NPP cannot afford to lose 2016 elections.