Media mention of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) has been unusually high recently, which is perhaps the clearest sign that the 2012 election season has arrived since the CPP only manages to rouse itself for the quadrennial electoral competition. Much of the media coverage has centred on the forthcoming election of party officials, especially due to the excitement caused by Samia Nkrumah, the party’s sole Member of Parliament. While the media and politicians may be excited about the CPP’s Congress slated for late July, the public appears nonplussed and bemused by it all. The media and politicians are understandably excited by gossip and information in their tiny village which they mistake for the country at large. Every morning, while they talk themselves to near-death on radio and television, the citizens go about their normal lives only stopping every now and then to smile or even chuckle at a striking comment. The media and politicians think this is the life; the citizens beg to differ. So, when the CPP party officials become frenzied by preparation for Congress and who might become party chairperson, they might do well to stop and ask the public what they think.
I did just that. I know it is not a scientific poll but I spoke with a good number of people and asked them if they thought the election of any one person to the Chairmanship of the CPP would change the fortunes of the party. Most people couldn’t care less, although there is a general sense of disappointment that the CPP has become so marginal to the country’s politics. There is name recognition of some of the prominent people in the party, and of course, there is always the harking back to Nkrumah. That is about it. The question that draws a blank and on which the CPP needs to dwell is the simplest one: what is the CPP for? This should be the starting point of any serious political crusade but unfortunately beyond a vague sense of values and rehashing of ancient ideological verities, the CPP has floundered in the identity department. This leaves room for all manner of speculation and guesswork mostly fuelled by uncoordinated statements and attitudes of party officials as projected in the media.
For example, a number of CPP officials participate in the inescapable morning political discussions on radio and TV but it has never been made clear whether the things they say represent the CPP’s position or their own views on current issues. They never make it clear whether they speak for the party in such circumstances, and it is a claim they cannot make because the format adopted by radio and TV “newspaper reviews” would make any such claims absurd. Almost all radio and TV stations have adopted a routine by which certain people appear on certain days irrespective of the topics to be discussed. If it is Monday it is Amma; if it is Wednesday it is Kofi, that sort of thing. This means no party can send the appropriate representative to speak on its behalf. This means that CPP “commentators” are speaking for themselves.
This format works well for the media because they don’t have to do the difficult work of having to invite appropriate people to their discussion forums. It also suits the NDC and NPP because their positions are basically to oppose each other; the public knows instinctively what the NDC and NPP would say on almost every issue even before the panellists take their seats. This is not good for the CPP which needs to create a strong sense of identity in the minds of the public. It is this lack of clarity that has caused the electoral disasters that continue to haunt the CPP. The CPP mounted a slick professional campaign in 2008, but it was largely perceived as Dr. Nduom’s own personal campaign and did nothing to consolidate any ideas about CPP values or direction. The campaign rallies attracted huge crowds but crowds don’t vote; individuals do, and once they leave the clap-sing-and-dance ambience of the rally people ask themselves why they should vote for the CPP. It is the answer to that question that the party has to work out and present in clear and unambiguous terms. The undeniable fact is that the CPP has failed as an electoral machine, having not once gone even up to five percent of the popular vote. There are both electoral and historical reasons for this abysmal showing. Historically, Ghana has always had two strong parties in the arena vying for voters’ loyalty and support. Today, the NDC and NPP occupy the two slots, and in such situations the two parties need only define themselves by not being the “other”. In other words, it is sufficient for NPP core voters not to be NDC and vice versa. In elections, it is important for the two top parties to convince the electorate NOT to vote for the other as much as they make the case for themselves. In our polarised political circumstances, even floating voters are floating only between the NDC and NPP because electorally it would not make sense for them to “spoil” their vote by voting for what they consider a “hopeless case”, especially if they believe that their vote could be critical in deciding which of the top two wins. If the CPP has conducted a post-mortem of the 2008 election it probably has documented thousands of such instances in which people who had pledged their support switched at the last minute.
The CPP is not alone in this sort of electoral no-mans-land. Third parties and smaller parties all over the world suffer from this malaise and can overcome it only through two options working separately or together. These are the adoption of an alternative voting system or the espousal of radical political platforms. Examples of the latter abound, especially on the right in Europe where Marie Le Pen’s National Front Party in France and the British National Party have made strong electoral showings by distinguishing themselves through radical platforms. I believe that the CPP, in its own interest and in the interest of a purer and more inclusive democracy in Ghana should have spearheaded a campaign to change our electoral system from first past the post to proportional representation. It is not my intention here to go into the details of proportional representation but it is fair to point out that in a strictly proportional situation even a one percent vote in a 230 member parliament would entitle a party to two parliamentarians. However, a campaign by the CPP for proportional representation would give the party the much needed visibility and an issue that distinguishes it from other parties, plus of course a much larger share of the vote because every vote will count wherever it is cast. The CPP has not taken this road, indeed it is nowhere on the party’s radar and when the opportunity came during a debate organised by the Editors Forum and the IEA, CPP officials present appeared not to understand the significance of the moment.
The other option available to the CPP is to adopt a strong radical programme. In fact, the people of Ghana, if and when they think of the CPP, associate the party with strong and radical leadership. This means that the CPP must distinguish itself from the other parties by championing the cause of the voiceless and marginalised not in words but in a demonstrable and deliverable programme that gives the people grounds to switch their allegiance from other parties with confidence. The CPP must come up with radical policies on education, health, infrastructure and the general direction of the state and society in ways that correct the imbalance against the poor.
Of course, if the CPP will survive as a credible party it has to have members but I wonder if any constituency holds regular meetings, or whether the party head office writes to its members or even collects dues. As far as I can recall, there has not been a single media report of any CPP public event; not even a village football match. If such meetings have been going on then they have been a well kept secret.
The CPP can only survive if it has the numbers. The old way of believing that one powerful individual can emerge and take the party on his or her mighty shoulders is a mere fantasy, as is the phantom belief that there are millions of people waiting to vote spontaneously for it in 2012. It didn’t happen in 2008 and nothing has changed.