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Ghana's Political Players

John Dramani Mahama: The former vice president succeeded to the presidency following the death of John Atta Mills in July 2012, and won a four-year term in his own right at the December 2012 election. However, the top-down process by which he was chosen as the NDC’s presidential nominee suggests that party leaders were concerned that Mahama did not enjoy strong enough support within the party to avoid a divisive primary contest that could undermine the advantages accruing from incumbency. Thus, while the NDC controls a majority of seats in the Parliament, the president’s ability to count on the unified support of the party’s lawmakers, which will be essential to implementing reforms that are crucial to realizing the full potential of the country’s oil reserves and promoting economic diversification, cannot be taken for granted.

National Democratic Congress: The NDC was returned to power at the 2008 elections, ending an eight-year period in opposition. Although it retained the presidency and won a comfortable majority of seats in the expanded Parliament at the December 2012 elections, its effectiveness at governing may be hampered by factional divisions. The party’s socialist roots are still evident in the presence of an aggressive left-wing faction loyal to former President Jerry Rawlings, which, despite its defeat in a direct challenge to Mills’ leadership, could still make life difficult for President Mahama, whose depth of support within the NDC remains uncertain.

New Patriotic Party: The NPP supports economic reform and favors liberal trade and investment policies. The economy performed well during its tenure in power under President John Kufuor, but corruption scandals and the Kufuor administration’s failure to make a bigger dent in poverty and unemployment contributed to its narrow defeat at the 2008 elections. Nana Akufo-Addo once again made a strong bid for the presidency as the NPP’s candidate in 2012, but fell short against Mahama, who enjoyed the advantages of incumbency and the lack of a track record to attack, having only succeeded Mills in the presidency in July 2012. The NPP made a net gain of 16 seats at the parliamentary elections held in December 2012, but its total of 123 represents a shrunken share of the total seats in the expanded 275-member Parliament.

Military: Top leaders of the armed forces have pledged their commitment to maintaining the constitutional order, but the military has a history of political intervention. Some senior leaders still maintain a close relationship with former NDC leader Rawlings, a connection that creates a persistent threat that factional strife within the governing party might become politicized.

Seth Terkper: The new finance minister served as deputy to his predecessor, Kwabena Duffuor, in the previous administration, and prior to that worked at the IMF. His resume suggests that he will be comfortable with the task of securing approval of liberal reforms, but he has inherited his post at a time when Ghana faces pressure for significant belt-tightening, and he could become a lightning rod for popular discontent. Despite the ballooning of the budget deficit to 12.1% of GDP in 2012, Terkper has indicated that he does not see the need for a general program of austerity. He hopes to reduce the deficit to a more manageable 6.5% of GDP in 2013 partly by reducing the amount the government spends on fuel subsidies, the bill for which is projected to increase to $1.3 billion this year. However, discontent over price hikes resulting from cuts in subsidies will create pressure to introduce other measures to offset the impact of reduced subsidies on household budgets, in the process diluting the fiscal impact of subsidies reform. The Finance Ministry is also expecting increased production at the Jubilee oil field to boost tax revenue. Whether that proves to be wishful thinking remains to be seen.

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