Authors : Westminster Foundation for Democracy
Publication Type : Report
Ghana has held six elections since returning to multiparty democracy in 1992 with three turnovers of power including, in 2016, the first defeat of a sitting incumbent. But multiparty elections are costly affairs for aspiring and current parliamentarians as this cost of politics research illustrates. Between 2012 and 2016 the cost of running for political office increased 59%.
On average candidates needed to raise GH₵389,803 (approx. US$85,000) to secure the party primary nomination and compete in the parliamentary election in their constituency. If the cost of politics rises to unaffordable levels the danger is that politics becomes the domain of the elite and wealthy, and that the motivation and incentives of MPs move from serving the public to recovering their own investment.
This study breaks down the various costs involved in seeking public office in Ghana. To do this over 250 aspirants, candidates and sitting MPs were surveyed about their experiences in the 2012 and 2016 elections. These findings were triangulated with key informant interviews and focus group discussions. Four key areas of election expenditure – campaigns, payment of party workers, media and advertisement and donations – are analysed in detail at both the party primary level and during parliamentary election campaigns.
They paint a picture of an environment where male candidatesoutspend female ones; where the greatest costs incurred are by candidates standing in municipal areas; where party primaries, particularly those of Ghana’s two main political parties (the NDC and NPP) are very costly affairs; and where an ability to spend the most money is, by and large, a critical factor in successful winning a seat in elected office.
If the cost of politics rises to unaffordable levels the danger is that politics becomes the domain of the elite and wealthy, and that the motivation and incentives of MPs move from serving the public to recovering their own investment
The drivers of these costs are explored through a myriad of social and political forces ranging from party foot-soldiers and traditional leaders to community development organisations and youth associations. The nuanced picture that emerges illustrates that these various interest groups benefit at different stages of the electoral cycle.
During the party primaries candidates seek to respond to the demands of community interest groups whilst during the parliamentary poll, these groups are ignored in favour of party officials, foot-soldiers and needy individuals. For those who successfully win a seat as an MP those dynamics change again. What is consistent is the expectations of citizens that elected officials, or those seeking elected office, are the ones to provide for them. This can be through cash payments, lobbying for constituency projects in parliament and by “in-kind” rewards.
And where does all this money come from? One of the striking findings of this research is that the most common source of revenue is personal income. Political parties do still provide some financial assistance to candidates but the picture that emerges is that of a funding structure much more reliant on personal relationships; one that may have implications for personal debt amongst politicians and consequentially corruption, in Ghanaian politics.
The 2016 parliament is comprised of 85% men. Finally, it is argued that rising costs are fostering a general disillusionment with politics, not just from those on the outside looking in, but with those participating in it. When the selection of candidates becomes more about their ability to raise resources than their competence and ability to serve constituents a change in state- citizen relations is also likely to ensue.
The cost of politics refers to the costs faced by individual candidates from the moment they decide to run to the point they become a MP. It includes not just the campaign, but their time in elected office should they be successful. The cost of politics should always be understood in the context of national economic indicators, as this allows us to judge affordability for an average citizen. It also needs to look at the sources of income to understand how realistic raising and repaying the required resources is.
If the cost of politics rises to unaffordable levels the danger is that politics becomes the domain of the elite and wealthy, and that the motivation and incentives of MPs move from serving the public to recovering their investment.
In the Ghanaian context the cost of politics refers to:
- The cost of winning the party primaries within a constituency to become the party’s electoral flag bearer
- The cost of winning the parliamentary elections in a constituency
- The costs incurred once elected to a term of office.
The costly nature of multiparty politics is not in dispute. Political scientists, politicians and donors agree that substantial funds are always necessary to undertake campaign activities. All respondents affirmed the conventional view that electoral politics in Ghana has become a capital-intensive venture. Candidates contesting any of the seven elections that have been held since the return to multiparty democracy in Ghana have invested huge funds to carry out their political programs.
This expenditure starts as they seek to secure their parties nominations. As one respondent rightly explained, “when it comes to intra-party primaries and parliamentary elections, one can only talk about big money rather than petty cash because the expenditures involved run into millions of Ghana cedis”.
Expenditures in the Primaries
There are two rounds in the primaries. The first involves securing the party’s approval to contest. This is normally done through an application that is then vetted, as to the aspirant’s suitability, by the party. The second is to secure the party’s nomination as a parliamentary candidate. Both have significant associated costs. Multiparty politics in Ghana has exuded internal party competition to the extent that competition between candidates is intense.
Incumbents face competition from other prospective candidates some of who are debutants, some have previously contested and lost, and some have previously experienced parliament before losing their seat. In order to succeed in such a competitive environment, candidates have to mobilise significant funds to run their campaigns.
The survey data shows that a candidate who competed in both the 2012 and 2016 party primaries incurred a cumulative average cost of 275,743 Ghana cedis (GH₵). On average candidates spent GH₵121,609 in 2012 on the party primaries contest alone; a figure that rose to GH₵154,134 in 2016. Given the income levels among public servants in Ghana, which range from GH₵150,000-200,000 per annum, the outlay is significant.
Spending in the Parliamentary Election
Generally, expenditure for parliamentary elections are higher than in party primaries, due to the increased geographical size of the constituency, the demands of the electorate and the closer proximity to elected office. In the past two parliamentary elections (2012 and 2016), the total amount, on average, disbursed by a candidate participating in both the primary and parliamentary election is GH₵359,674. Here the increased costs are more visible with the average spend having risen from GH₵124,005 in 2012 to GH₵235,669 in 2016.
Affordability of the elections
Although the 2016 election was 59% more expensive, parliamentary campaign expenditure dropped 34% when looked at in US dollars; from an average of US$129,000 in 2012, it was just US$85,000 in 2016. It appears that the 59% rise in the cost of competing for a seat in parliament in Ghana is linked to the 140% drop in the value of the Ghana Cedi between 2012 and 201610. It is worth noting that salaries for most Ghanaians have not kept up with the inflation and therefore affordability should be seen with this economic reality in mind.
This finding also points to an area for future research. It suggests that access to capital from outside of the country can be advantageous for reducing election costs. Diaspora fundraising, along with a growing number of candidates who return from careers abroad with accumulated capital to seek public office, will be an area to watch in future elections. Particularly as the right to vote is set to be extended to this constituency in 2020.
In Ghana a sitting MP earns GH₵233,000 annually. Therefore, a successful election campaign on average costs them the equivalent of almost two years’ salary, illustrating how much of a barrier to entry the cost of politics can have on ordinary Ghanaians who are keen to seek political office but lack substantial sponsorship.
Surveyed candidates carried out various activities during the 2012 and 2016 parliamentary primaries. Each of these important political and electoral activities attracted expenditure:
All respondents reported spending the majority of their resources in carrying out campaign activities. Whereas in the 2012 primaries candidates disbursed an average of GH₵40,702, they spent an average of GH₵59,812 in 2016. The highest expenditure incurred on campaigns in 2012 during the primaries stood at GH₵195,000 compared to GH₵345,000 in 2016.
Elsewhere on the continent, party volunteers may not charge or expect a reward from aspirants for rendering electoral services, this study however shows that in Ghana, candidates pay attention to party workers and spend resources on their activities. In the 2012 and 2016 party primaries, the candidates expended an average of GH₵42,310 and GH₵34,781 on those who worked for them as ‘volunteers’ respectively.
MEDIA AND ADVERTISEMENT
Advertisement remains a central component of a candidate’s electoral activities. Respondents insisted that the media was one of the most important instruments for achieving message dissemination even though most candidates spent less on it (14%) than they did for other activities (see Figure 4). In 2012 for instance, GH₵11,855, equal to just over a quarter of the amount spent on party workers, was disbursed on media (see Figure 3).
To understand this, it is important to remember that majority of constituencies in Ghana are rural, where levels of media penetration are low. Candidates predominantly favoured local radio stations which remain the primary source of political and social information for most citizens. The average amount spent on media in 2012 (GH₵11,855) and 2016 (GH₵21,148) was the smallest outlay in comparative terms.
Our 2016 survey data shows that the geographical location of a candidate determines how much is spent during electoral contests. Those who engage in politics in municipal areas consistently spend more during the parliamentary elections than those who contest in cities or rural settlements. This could be explained by the fact they fall between more developed areas (cities) – that boast a more vibrant economic environment, better educated residents and are already home to a level of quality social services – and rural areas (districts) – where the cost of living, and therefore campaigning, is cheaper.
Is cost rising?
Another trend that shows the increase in the cost of political activities of candidates and MPs is the mean spending. For instance, whereas ‘campaign’ costs for a candidate to run in 2012 parliamentary election were GH₵46,411, the equivalent spent in 2016 was more than double at GH₵109,717. And overall costs to compete in primary and parliamentary election rose, on average GH₵144,189 in the same time period. A figure almost four times the average total spend by a PPP candidate. A statistic that further reinforces the level of dominance enjoyed by Ghana’s two main political parties; the NDC and NPP.
While expenditures for legislative primaries among competing candidates differ by party, gender and location, the variation in cost may be a function of the type of candidates contesting the election. In highly professionalised legislatures, campaigns involving long-serving incumbent MPs’ tend to be associated with higher costs as challengers must overcome the inherent fundraising advantage of the sitting member.
14 Spending differences among candidates may also occur based on whether the seat being contested is open (swing) or safe, with swing seats incurring greater costs.15 For the candidates the surge in electoral expenditure is an everyday political reality but the concern is that it could lead to a financial arms race among politicians and a forgetting of the need to also represent constituents when in office.
Contesting primaries and parliamentary elections involves detailed planning of electoral activities that require both candidates and important groups. Those who work closely with candidates tend to influence the cost component of the electoral programmes. Survey respondents noted many groups that they worked with during the conduct of the primaries and parliamentary elections. Top among the groups and individuals respondents worked with the most were organised groups in local constituencies (13.3%); followed by party executives at the polling station level (13%).
Party foot-soldiers, party executives at the constituency level and friends and associates all ranged between 12-13%. Further down the list of importance were media anchors, traditional authorities, spiritual leaders and last, with 5.7%, the party’s presidential candidate.
Candidates are expected to provide rewards or show gratitude to each of these groups of local influencers for offering assistance to them during the contest of the primaries and parliamentary elections. This was done either in cash or in-kind. The survey findings show that majority of the groups preferred cash to in-kind compensation (Figure 7).
For instance, in the primaries, close to half of respondents (45.4%) said the constituency party executives received their rewards in cash while 27.9% indicated having administered in-kind with 26.7% making no response to the question. Party executives at the various polling stations who formed part of the Electoral College to elect candidates in the parties’ primaries were rewarded in cash (47.1%) and in-kind (27.5%).
During the parliamentary elections the dynamics shift. 22% responded that “needy persons” in the constituencies make the most demands at this juncture. Indeed, vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, particularly in rural areas, look to politicians to provide remedies to their economic hardship. The parliamentary election offers the opportunity for party foot-soldiers to secure financial rewards for their efforts with 21% of respondents mentioning this as a group which they have to reward.
Youth are also a key consideration at this stage with 17% of respondents agreeing that they would seek to provide financial assistance to young party supporters and a further 11% noting the importance of youth associations. In a reversal of the approach to party primaries respondents mentioned community-based/local development organisations, communities themselves and educational institutions, 5.4%, 4.8% and 2.6% of the time. The data shows an understandable prioritisation of the electoral campaign, realised through the rewarding of key supporters.
Sitting MPs continue to receive ‘applications’ and demands from their constituents when in elected office. 17% of respondents indicated that those who demanded the most were youth associations, followed by spiritual leaders. The case of the youths, it may not be surprising to many observers. Their dynamism is duly exploited by politicians: they form the bulk of the campaign volunteers for candidates, who encourage them to undertake electoral tasks. It is therefore not a surprise that they seek ‘repayment’ for the services rendered to getting the MP into office.
The logic also applies to spiritual leaders, who are key supporters for any campaign, and seek to utilise their importance when candidates successfully obtained elected office. The least likely to make demands of sitting MPs according to the survey data were communities in the MP’s constituency who were mentioned just 4.6% of the time.
Donations from the private sector used to be a critical source of funding for politicians. Previously, companies that had direct association with individual politicians, particularly, those of the ruling party gave large sums of money to support their political activities
Spending on the primaries and parliamentary election is one phase of the costs involved in doing politics in Ghana. Having spent huge sums of money to win the parliamentary seat, MPs still face a sizeable financial burden whilst in office. In order to meet these expectations most MPs draw on personal finances and many carry additional financial burdens. Respondents indicated that the top four expectations of MPs in office by order of importance are:
- Lobby for development projects for their constituencies
- Offer financial support to constituents, such as donations, for school fees and hospital bills
- Make good laws for the country
- Provide their constituencies with social infrastructure such as schools, roads and clinics.
This suggests that MPs believe that citizens view them principally as providers of social development and charity as opposed to elected representatives tasked with legislating, oversight and representation.
Donations from the private sector used to be a critical source of funding for politicians. Previously, companies that had direct association with individual politicians, particularly, those of the ruling party gave large sums of money to support their political activities.
However, this study indicates a dwindling of donations from companies with only 1.7% of respondents claiming they had received corporate donations. This withdrawal may be due to the fear of suffering from the fallout if there chosen candidate does not win. Conspicuously absent from the list of sources of funding is public subsidies. In Ghana, the debate about public funding of political parties remains divisive. Generally, the ruling party at the time, pushes back against state funding whilst the opposition gives strong support for its implementation.
Among the most direct forms of exclusion arising from an increasingly expensive political system relates to wealth. The research shows a clear perception among those sampled that Ghanaian politics is now largely the preserve of the rich. Asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “the high cost of politics has made it quite impossible for the average person to seek political office,”nearly85%oftherespondentsagreed,with almost 50% strongly agreeing.
This belief was echoed in the qualitative answers provided in the survey. Several suggested that it was “difficult for qualified but not rich people to contest” or that “politics was for the rich only.” One respondent went so far as to say that “the rich will go and recoup their investment; it’s dangerous for our democracy!”
Political party financing regulation does already exist in Ghana, but despite the legislation, rarely do candidates and their parties comply with the detailed legal requirements
In this instance, money is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. One spends money to ‘feed the addiction’ rather than to accumulate more money. This contrasts with the conventional interpretation of opportunistic candidates whose interest in becoming an MP may be less about a desire to contribute to the future direction of the country, or to hold the executive to account; and more about the opportunity to benefit from the immunity from prosecution that may be available to MPs, or influence over the award of public contracts. This tendency – closely linked to the high cost of parliamentary politics – brings with it the clear risk of corruption.
Political party financing regulation does already exist in Ghana, but despite the legislation, rarely do candidates and their parties comply with the detailed legal requirements. Reports indicate that the parties and their candidates have often failed to submit their audited accounts to the Electoral Commission (EC) within the stipulated time as demanded by Act 574.
The general infractions on the law have continued for many years without any candidate or party facing consequences. There has been no occasion where the EC invoked the law to discipline candidates and parties overly breaches. Candidates are free to mobilise as much funding as much as possible without submitting to accountability.
Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly in light of the permissive attitudes discussed above, over 72% of the respondents expressed support for sanctions against those who engage in political patronage. Given that 83% of these same respondents declared their approval of political patronage, this juxtaposition strengthens the hypothesis that most political actors would like to see the system change (and the costs reduce) but few to none feel they can make that change on their own.
- Initiation of a national dialogue among political parties, electoral institutions, and civil society to deliberate on the impact of money on politics and the expectations citizens and politicians have in terms of its regulation
- More rigorous enforcement of existing political party finance legislation
- Further efforts, through both formal and informal channels, to increase the transparency of election spending, including requiring candidates and parties to be more open about the costs they incur
- A return to the discussion about state funding for political parties
- Greater engagement with citizens about the negative implications of making direct financial demands on their MP
- Further research to explore whether there is a collective action problem regarding change to the system and to look at ways in which candidates develop credibility beyond money, i.e. social capital
- Further research into the intersection of political finance and the gender political representation gap in Ghanaian politics
- Create greater clarity and differentiation between the party’s limitations, role and responsibilities and the individual candidate’s limitation, roles and responsibilities in campaign spend.
- Introduce practices and incentives that support parties to build loyal memberships and long term financial planning for elections (possibly linked to state funding).
- Provide guidance and protection for Ghanaian private sector to transparently support political parties with the Electoral Commission (EC).
- Support engagement between the EC, media and political parties to address the cost of media during elections.
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