Africa and Western World / Elections and Democracy / West Africa

Term-Limits for Winners and Losers: Constitutional Democracy & Republicanism

Nana Akufo-Addo was the National Patriotic Party’s (NPP) standard flag-bearer in the 2008 and 2012 general Ghanaian elections.  Unfortunately for Akufo-Addo and the NPP, both attempts failed.  Akufo-Addo lost the 2008 election to President Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the 2012 election, after the untimely death of President Mills, to President John Mahama (also of the NDC).   Akufo-Addo and the NPP questioned the results of the 2012 election and petitioned the Ghanaian Supreme Court to annul President Mahama’s victory.   The Ghanaian Supreme Court, however, ruled in favor of President Mahama and the NDC on August 29, 2013.  After the Court’s decision, some members of general public and the NPP have called for Akufo-Addo to step out of politics and “give others within the NPP a chance” to run for office.

To Akufo-Addo’s credit, after both presidential defeats and particularly the latter election, he implored for peace and pushed Ghana’s democracy to new constitutional standards and heights.   Yet, while Akufo-Addo has been a strong stalwart of democracy in Ghana, this piece attempts to grapple with the role of a defeated standard flag-bearer in a national political election.  If Akufo-Addo were to seek the highest public office in the land, again, it would be the third time that he has attempted such a feat.   Now, the question remains, in a democratic society, how many times should an individual, particularly a standard flag-bearer, run for the presidency?  At what point in the equation is the defeated individual’s attempts to run for office a personal attempt to accumulate power or simply his or her strong convictions that he or she is the right person to lead the country forward despite two previous failures?  Furthermore, what does that individual think of the judgment and will of the people if they have rejected his or her overtures twice?

While comparing different democratic or republican institutions with different internal and external processes might be, and some might argue, problematic in arriving at this answer, I believe that in this particular case, a study on what steps the defeated candidate undertook and should take after a general presidential election in other countries with similar democratic and republican values is important.  In the United States’ recent political memory,  the defeated candidate in the general presidential election, which is not to be conflated with the party primaries, has not sought a re-run of the presidential office.   For instance, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry, John McCain and it appears, Mitt Romney, have all decided against running for the highest public office after losing a solitary presidential election.   In contrast, politicians such as Paa Kwesi Nduom of the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) in Ghana, Tony Leon of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in South Africa,  Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP) in South Africa, and Ralph Nader of the Green Party and Independent Party in the United States, respectively, have all run for the national presidency more than once.

While presidents have term limits, constitutional limits should also be imposed on how many times an individual may run in a general presidential election.   I believe the limiting on how many times a defeated presidential candidate may run for the highest office in the land will also enhance a state’s democratic process and institutions.   A defeated general election candidate should only be allowed to run twice for the presidency (unless they win their second election, to which they should be allowed to re-contest their seat against a challenger, but, afterwards, should not be allowed to run again).   Creating this limit prevents candidates from making it a personal ambition, above all else, to become the nation’s president.   Only permitting someone to be a standard flag-bearer once does not allow them to learn from their mistakes in the next general election, but similarly, new political ideas and personnel continuously need to be injected at all levels of the political atmosphere and system to help prevent stagnation.

K.N. Osei-Opare is a PhD student in History at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in History from Stanford University.  He is interested in state capitalism, modernization, intellectual networks, Nkrumaism, and African philosophy.   He is also an avid cricket, football, and Manchester United supporter.


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