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POLITICS-GHANA: The Steep Price of Getting Elected

Francis Kokutse

ACCRA, Oct 16 2008 (IPS) - Mawusi Awity and her husband were willing to jeopardize his military career for her dream of running for parliament in Ghana but there was another price to pay that she could not afford.

“The excessive use of money to win the minds and hearts of the voters is making it difficult for women to get into the forefront of politics,” Awity told IPS.

A development worker and district assemblywoman for the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), Awity, 46, is one of a handful of women trying to move into Ghana’s political arena. Her story shows the need to re-draw political rules in this democratic West African country (pop.23 million).

In August, Awity lost the primary election to choose the parliamentary candidate for the South Tongu constituency, in the southeast.

Never mind the possible consequences for her husband, an officer in the Armed Forces, of her choice. “My husband has resigned himself to the fate that if my party looses the elections, that is the end of his career,” she added. “But he is a wonderful man and supports me.”

The insurmountable problem was vote-buying among party delegates, a common practice in Ghana, according to political analysts.

“The use of money in politics has seriously affected all the attempts we have made to involve more women in politics,” said Hamida Harrison, programme officer of the women advocacy group, Abantu for Development.

Awity’s decision not to buy votes possibly cost her the election. “The people know I am the best candidate but they also decided to take money to vote for whoever provides the money,” she said.

The numbers speak for themselves. For this year’s general elections scheduled for December, only 70 women are running for Parliament’s 230 seats.

Perhaps the lesson of the last elections in 2004 was not lost on women. Between the two main parties and a few small ones, a total of 101 women ran. Twenty-four were elected – just under 11 per cent of Members of Parliament (MPs).

The NPP fielded 227 candidates, of whom 27 were women. Twenty women and 107 men were elected.

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) fielded 212 male candidates, of whom 90 were elected, and 16 women, of whom four were elected.

The Convention People’s Party (CPP) candidates numbered 150 men and 18 women. Only two men were elected.

“To think that after we launched the Women’s Manifesto, this is all we achieved, shows that there are fundamental problems that need to be addressed,” said Harrison.

The Manifesto, launched in 2004, is a non-partisan call to promote gender equality in politics.

“We have been able to use the Manifesto to change the perception of our women about politics not being a job for them,” Harrison told IPS.

Some progress can be seen. The Chief Justice, the Deputy Inspector General of Police and the Vice-Chancellor of a large public university are women.

“What is holding women back is the way politics is run in the country,” said Harrison.

Money talks, money votes

Thelma Lamptey, who won the CPP primary to represent Pokuase constituency near Accra, the capital, couldn’t agree more. Lamptey, a teacher, has twice lost the nomination to men.

“The main problem has been how to raise money to run my campaigns,” she said.

“Whereas men find it easy to raise funds, women cannot easily go to the men who could help them. In addition, the men who may want to help do not feel comfortable to approach the women,” she added.

Harrison attributes the attitude of the men to the social structure of the country: “Let us be honest, Ghana is a patriarchal country and a highly traditional society and this does not give space to women. We have reports of spousal pressure on some women to back out from their political careers and some marriages have broken down.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, a couple of top women touted as possible vice presidents by the various parties were not interested.

Anna Bossman, acting head of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, turned down an offer from the CPP, arguing she was happy in her job. Rose Mensah-Kutin, executive director of Abantu, recused herself early on when her name was being bandied by the NPP.

What to do?

Awity supports affirmative action with a number of Parliamentary seats reserved for women.

Lamptey suggests exempting women candidates from paying filing fees to the party before the primaries and another fee later to the Electoral Commission.

Awity, who in spite of her bitter defeat works with the NPP presidential advisory team, said that “the party has become aware of the money factor as one thing that is impeding the participation of women and that has to be fought seriously.”

She agreed that fees should be scrapped for women or the government should set up a fund to support women candidates. However, she warned, strict monitoring is needed to prevent misuse.

Then Awity can worry about winning votes, instead of buying them.

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