The National Democratic Congress(NDC) prides itself as the people-centred social democratic party in Ghana’s polity.
Founded by Jerry John Rawlings in 1992, the party’s electoral fortunes depended on its charismatic founder and his personality cult for the first decade in power. Internal party power dynamics also tilted towards the interest of the founder rather than the base.
Internal democracy took a back seat until the year 2000 when the progressive section of the party protested against the hand-picking of Professor John Evans Atta Mills to succeed Jerry John Rawlings as flag bearer without any internal contest.
It was the beginning of the nurturing of internal democracy within the NDC and the end of the personality cult leadership within the party which called not for general loyalty to the party and its founding principles, but absolute loyalty to one presumed leader of the party.
Though President Rawlings had his way in 2000, the masses in the end had their say in the general elections by voting the NDC out of power.
It goes without saying that when internal democracy is undermined within the party, history shows that the consequences are felt in the general elections.
Not only did the NDC lose the Presidential elections in 2000 due to a lack of internal democracy and cohesion, the party also lost its majority in Parliament because the cult leader imposed parliamentary candidates on the party as well as a Presidential candidate.
During that period leading to the 2000 elections, anyone who advocated for internal democracy was tagged “Anti-Rawlings”.
Rawlings demanded absolute loyalty to himself and his interest rather than general loyalty to the party’s founding democratic principles but the disastrous outcome of the 2000 elections that sent the NDC into opposition remains a history lesson for all students of NDC internal politics.
With the benefit of such hindsight, Professor John Evans Mills made sure to not repeat the mistake of his predecessor. He did not only accept internal democracy within the NDC between 2004 and 2012 when he led the party into power and died in office as President, but he also actively encouraged internal contest.
Professor Atta Mills went into the contest with others in order to lead the NDC into the 2004 and 2008 general elections. As sitting President, he faced an internal contest from Mrs Rawlings during the famous FONKAR-GAMES in 2011.
Under President Mills, NDC members freely and openly competed for the leadership of the party as social democrats who believed in internal democracy characterized by rotational and participatory leadership.
Under him, loyalty to the centre of the party always surpassed loyalty to his individual as a potential flag bearer.
Again, it goes without saying that the NDC has therefore been making steady progress in terms of the party’s internal democratic development - until recently under the presumptive leadership of John Dramani Mahama.
The rollback on internal democracy under John Mahama has its roots in how he became the leader of the party without any contest in the first place. When President Atta Mills died in office in 2012, John Mahama succeeded him on a silver platter and was unilaterally acclaimed by party executives as flag bearer for the 2012 general elections, the outcome of which became disputed.
With such an easy ascension to power, John Mahama began to build a personality cult that began the false narrative that said anyone who believed in internal democracy and supports a contest with John Mahama for leadership of the NDC, was an enemy of the party. And such people are labelled “Anti-John Mahama” for what it is worth.
Prior to the 2016 general elections, efforts were made by John Mahama and party executives to disqualify anybody who put themselves up to challenge John Mahama for party flag bearer.
In protest against a lack of internal democracy, however, a huge percentage of party delegates voted against John Mahama even as an unopposed presidential candidate on the ballot.
And towards 2020, John Mahama and his presumptive supporters within the NDC continued to roll back on internal democracy by making every effort to prevent a contest - once again, missing the lessons of history.
However, many party leaders emerged defiantly in their effort to reintroduce internal democracy and work to demystify the John Mahama personality cult and break the fear factor imposed by this false narrative.
Leaders such as Professor Joshua Alabi, Spio Garbrah, Sylvester Mensah and many others gave John Mahama a run for his money in the presidential primary that year 2018.
As we head towards the 2024 general elections, it was the expectation of many within the NDC and Ghanaians at large that John Mahama will hang his boots and make way for a leadership succession plan. Rather, John Mahama and his supporters are doing their very best to once again kill internal democracy by antagonizing anybody or a group of persons who support an internal leadership contest for flag bearer.
All internal democrats who support the competition of ideas among candidates to select a Presidential candidate for 2024 elections have now been tagged “anti-JM”.
These cult followers of John Mahama have been trying very hard to convince the public and NDC delegates to believe the absurdity that those who think more about the personal interests and ambition of John Mahama rather than the greater interest and future of the NDC are true lovers of the party while those who favor party principles of rotational and accountable leadership are rather NDC party haters who are working against the interest of the party.
They confuse the interest of John Mahama with the interest of the NDC.
Not surprisingly, this warped logic seems to have failed to capture the minds of the many discerning NDC delegates throughout the country before and during elections of branch, constituency and regional party officers. This is because majority of the defiant voices and party loyalists have been elected into offices although they were branded “anti-JM” while many of those who touted loyalty to the former President rather than the party lost unprecedentedly across the country.
A few examples will suffice. In Greater Accra region former chairman Ade Coker branded himself as a JM loyalist and his opponents as anti-JM. He lost monumentally. Ashanti regional NDC chairman Nana Akwasi was branded by his opponents as anti-JM and in the end, he gained a landslide victory over his John Mahama touting internal opponents.
The story was not different in the Eastern region, Northern region, central region and many other regions.
So what does this tell us? If the anti - John Mahama tag being bandied about is meant to put the fear factor into internal democrats and progressive thinkers, then that false narrative has massively backfired as more and more candidates in the just-ended constituency and regional elections hoisted the banner of John Mahama and met defeat while internal many who hoisted Dr. Kwabena Duffuor won emphatically.
It does not seem that the party delegates are ready to compromise their quest for internal and external change through party elections. It also does not appear that the personality cult of John Mahama retains any more charm to sway the party base who are yearning for change both within and externally.
Indeed, to be labeled anti-Mahama or Pro-Duffuor is becoming more and more acceptable as it has become a source of political capital within the party rather than a fear factor.
It is the clearest signal yet that the grassroots are amenable to internal change of leadership and a shift away from the Mahama cult of personality politics.
And it also seems to be the beginning of clarity in the minds of those party members who have been confused by the false narrative that wants to make the NDC party one and the same as John Mahama.
After all, the NDC has outlived its founder Jerry John Rawlings. It has also outlived its former leader, John Atta Mills. And will surely outlive John Mahama because the NDC party is bigger than any one individual no matter how long it takes.
The NDC party interest, therefore, remains the supreme interest of all true party members. And every true member’s loyalty is to the party and not any individual party leader.
If being a pro-NDC principle of leadership and democratic accountability is viewed by some as being anti-John Mahama, it goes without saying that John Mahama and his cult supporters are the true anti-NDC who are seeking to replace the greater party interest with an individual parochial agenda!
Source: Maxwell Okamafo Addo
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