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…and the vexed question about abuse of incumbency

The ritualistic chant has gone up from within the camp of the opposition: President John Mahama is abusing his incumbency to his electoral advantage!

I have been scratching my head in perplexity all week over the vexed issue of incumbency and the perceived abuse of it in national elections: Under the country’s electoral laws, the sitting president has as much right to conduct an election campaign as his closest rival in the opposition. Now, here are some brain teasers:

The president travels in a convoy of a fleet of official vehicles when he is on the road. When he sets out on the campaign trail, what does he do? Order the fleet of vehicles at his disposal to be parked away so that he can travel in a private car? If he hits the campaign trail with official vehicles in tow, is he or is he not abusing incumbency?

The president travels with a security detail. What does he do when he goes campaigning for votes across the country? Ask members of his security detail to take a holiday and then set out with some party faithful, friends and pub buddies?

What about the presidential press corps? The incumbent travels with reporters attached to the presidency. What does he do when he gets on the campaign trail? Ask the reporters to stay at home so that he and his electoral contender can in the name of fairness, be on an equal footing when it comes to media coverage and publicity?

Let us face it, Jomo: Except where the incumbent has disappointed the electorate with systematic incompetence, corruption and misrule or overstays its welcome in the seat of political authority, winning an election is often an uphill expedition for the opposition.

The advantages of incumbency are clear enough: Discreet access to campaign resources, the loyalty of the top hierarchy of the wider security apparatus, the state-owned media and often, discreet beneficiaries of government largesse like traditional rulers and community heads.

Tell me hand-to-heart, Jomo: Do you think there is a ruling political party anywhere on this planet or any of in outer space which will deny itself the advantages of incumbency during an election?

It however takes a great deal of integrity and honesty on the part of a ruling party not to help itself obscenely to the vast public resources at its disposal in its campaign.

Oh yes, the advantages of incumbency always seem unfair to the opposition candidate with the biggest electoral clout. It always makes the opposition feel disadvantaged and suspicious about the incumbent’s every move.

The trick around the problem, as far as is discernible under the circumstances, is for the incumbent to keep the advantages of incumbency within what might generally be considered acceptable limits and ensure transparency and fairness in all other matters related to elections.

By the way, Jomo, have you thought about the reason for this fierce, running contest for political power? Political power is one of the greatest lures in all of creation: Imagine having a nation, its people, public institutions, wealth, resources and entire machinery of state under your control.

It is certainly enough of a lure to make those seeking to keep or wrest political power, use campaign strategies that are as unfair to political opponents as they are threat to development of true democracy.

If a hungry man is a wild man as they say, then a political power-hungry man in the fierce battle to control the nation, its resources and the lives of we ordinary mortals, is an even angrier man and that refers as much to the incumbent determined to stay in power, as the opposition sworn to wresting power!

The constitutions of some countries require that all presidential and parliamentary candidates file returns on their campaign expenditure by a deadline after national elections. Candidates found to have made any false declarations in their returns with regard to money spent and/or their source, are subject to prosecution and fines typically hefty enough to deter politicians who may so inclined in future elections!

While it is necessary in our case to continue with the debate regarding how the advantages of incumbency may be kept within acceptable levels, it is also necessary for the all-round and wholesome growth of Ghana’s democracy, to make opposition candidates accountable in their expenditure on political campaigns, anaa..?