Ghana’s reversals

For various reasons, I was poking around in Ghanaian election results. I am interested in expanding my horizons of FPTP systems and presidential systems to analyze, and Ghana is one of the few such cases. However, unusually (uniquely?), while electing its legislature by FPTP, Ghana elects its presidency by two-round majority. Elections are concurrent (legislative single round with the presidential first round).

Only in 2008 has a runoff been required for the presidency, thus far.

Ghana in that year narrowly missed giving us a rare case not only of a president elected via a runoff and a legislature by FPTP, but also a case of divided government.

The legislative contest was a case of plurality reversal. (I had missed this one before!) The New Patriotic Party won the plurality of votes, 46.9%, over the National Democratic Congress, which won 44.2%. However, the NDC won the narrowest of majorities in the legislature, with 116 of 230 (50.4%). The NPP won 107 (46.5%). (These figures are from Adam Carr’s Psephos; Parline has the NDC on 115 seats, and does not provide votes.)

Meanwhile, in the first round presidential election, the NPP likewise had the plurality, with its candidate Nana A.D. Akufo-Addo winning 49.1%. The NDC candidate, incumbent president John Atta-Mills, won 47.9%. However, in the runoff, Atta-Mills defeated Akufo-Addo, 50.1-49.9.

So there you have it, a plurality reversal in the legislative election, and an inversion of the finish order between two rounds of the presidential election. The come-from behind win in the presidential race prevented a case of divided government.* Then again, so did the plurality reversal, given that a plurality of voters voted for NPP legislative candidates, but a majority of voters voted for the NDC presidential candidate whose party also won the majority of legislative districts.

It is worth noting that more than 500,000 additional voters turned out for the runoff, compared to the first round; moreover, the first round presidential race saw about 84,000 more votes than the legislative contests. Total votes cast in the runoff were just short of nine million. It is likely that more apathetic voters who stayed home in the first round simply preferred the incumbent they knew over the opposition. In the first round, while both presidential candidates received more votes than their respective legislative candidates, the NDC candidates ran farther behind their standard-bearer than did the NPP candidates: A deficit of almost 280,000 votes for the NDC versus just over 146,000 for the NPP.

In 2012 there was another plurality reversal for legislature. And another narrow miss of divided government:

    NPP, 47.3% votes, 123 seats (44.7%)
    NDC, 46.7% votes, 148 seats (53.8%)

Note that both parties gained vote share over 2008, but the NDC more so. And the NDC received a bigger seat payoff for its increase in votes than did the NPP.**

The presidential race closely averted a runoff. The NDC candidate, John Dramani Mahama, won 50.7%, and Akufo-Addo, 47.7%. Somewhat unusually, the total votes cast in legislative races in 2012 were slightly higher than in the presidential race.***

Apparently, I should pay more attention to Ghanaian politics! I hope some readers can fill in the many empty spaces (or should I say the vast void?) in this narrative. One thing that particularly interests me is whether the plurality reversals were noted in Ghanaian news reports at the time, and whether the possibility of divided government was cited as a factor in wooing swing voters between rounds of the 2008 presidential election.


* Such cases are actually very rare outside the USA, if we define “divided government” to mean a presidency of one party and a legislative majority (in at least one chamber) for a different party.

Some scholars call any case in which the president’s party (or pre-electoral bloc) lacks a majority “divided government”. However, situations in which no majority (or pre-electoral bloc) has over half the seats are actually the norm among presidential systems worldwide, and in most such cases the president’s party is in the lead of legislative coalitions. Under divided government, defined as a majority for those who opposed the president’s election, the president must either bargain with opposition-party leaders, or count on crossover legislators from within the opposition caucus.

** The size of the legislature was increased from 230 to 275.

*** 11,047,118 for legislators, 10,995,262 for presidential candidates.

8 thoughts on “Ghana’s reversals

  1. We have several students working on Ghana right now, and I’ve spoken with them often. I personally was rooting for divided government, in order to see what would happen with cabinet appointments (ministers are chosen from the legislature, and remain MPs while in cabinet – it’s an open question as to whether the president would appoint opponents).

    One thing that the students have told me is that yes, indeed, avoiding divided government was the main argument of the eventual winner in the 2008 run-off.

    • Thanks, Mike. That is really interesting.

      And, yes, I would definitely root for divided government. All for the advancement of science, of course.

    • I was curious about the provisions on cabinet appointments…

      The 1992 constitution, article 78:

      (1) Ministers of State shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of Parliament from among members of Parliament or persons qualified to be elected as members of Parliament, except that the majority of Ministers of State shall be appointed from among members of Parliament.

      Art. 76 (1) defines the cabinet as the President, Vice President “and not less than ten and not more than nineteen Ministers of State.”

      The system would still qualify as presidential, not semi-presidential, because the president is given authority to remove ministers (atr. 81), there is no prime minister, and the provisions on “censure” require an extraordinary majority. And even if parliament passes a censure motion, the president “may” revoke his appointment (Art. 82). It appears the president is free to ignore a censure measure.

      It would seem that the president would be fully within his rights to appoint some members of his own party, as well as non-legislators, to his cabinet. However, he needs the consent of parliament to appoint ministers, so parliament would be within its rights to refuse. Yes, an opposition majority would be interesting!

      Also, the president has a legislative veto, requiring two thirds to override (Art. 106).

      • Yes, those are the provisions to which I was referring. Seems like a constitutional crisis just waiting to happen if ever the voters were to produce divided government. Maybe a good reason to use runoff for the presidency, although you could still get an “opposition” president in the first round.

  2. In December, 2000, Ghana held national elections. The two main parties’ candidates participated in a runoff 3 weeks later, still in December. The candidate with the most votes in the first round won an absolute majority in the second round. I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to draw American attention to the sensible way that little Ghana conducted its presidential elections, while the U.S. couldn’t work out any reasonable method for resolving its own hotly-disputed presidential election controversy! And we still can’t take a hint.

    • I think some people are certainly taking a hint… I would draw your attention to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which is now at a halfway point from being fully-ratified.

  3. Yeah, the NPV (can we safely use this acronym?) seems stalled at the moment. Here in New York, it has become a ‘bargaining chip’. In one session the State Assembly passes it, in the next the State Senate passes it (this is where it stands currently I think), and one never hears about it otherwise. There is no discernible public campaign.

    • No, I will agree with you on that, but it’s making progress, slowly but surely. Just last month it passed a Republican chamber for the first time.

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