Campaigns for elections in the impending December 2012 general elections are deeply heating up. Issues, policies and programmes are increasingly dominating the campaigns.
As Ghana's democracy develops, the years of politics of insults, tribalism, and acrimony are gradually giving way to politics of issues. Sometimes the political parties fall over each other over issues.
Civility is in the air. Real democratic maturity is flowering. The issues games are so exciting that political parties have been accusing each other of stealing ideas from the other.
From remote villages such as Nagodie, a small cocoa farming community in the Brong Ahafo, to big towns such as Damongo, in the Northern region, everyone is talking about development issues and pinning the political parties to their development promises without fears.
Part of the reason for the high issues-based campaigns is the quality of politicians emerging. Almost all the presidential candidates have higher university education and globally exposed. They have deep sense of where Ghana is coming from in its development strides.
Of the eight political parties legally registered none has any distinct ideological dogma or purity. As the late President Hilla Limann would say, “Ghana” is the political parties’ “ideology.”
Even the newly formed Progressive People's Party (PPP) is no more difference ideologically from the old parties except that it appears to articulate issues better. The good old Convention People's Party (CPP), founded on Marxist-Leninist socialism, isn't different from the other parties in its ideological issues in tackling Ghana's development challenges. The CPP's core stimulating message of agricultural growth is no more or less different from that of the PPP, NDC or NPP.
The NPP appears to have bigger, detailed ideas and is dictating the issues games, sometimes driving the NDC in particular crazy. Education, the leading campaign issue, has seen enriched debate about not only how to make it free, from nursery to the senior level, but also how to make it quality.
Still, the NPP has entangled the NDC and other parties in the issues competitions, tactically confusing them from talking about pressing development issues such as sanitation, health, women, children, agriculture, industrialization and rural development. In particular, the ruling NDC has been countering the NPP, sometimes to the detriment of projecting its own development agenda.
It doesn't matter if the NPP call itself libertarian capitalist or the NDC say they are social democrats, a mutation from their earlier hard-lined socialist credentials, their statements and manifestoes are virtually the same, blurring in most issues, sometimes the differences just symbolic.
The Institute of Economic Affairs has given presidential candidates the platform to explain their policies and programmes and answer questions from Ghanaians. This has further opened the issues games and deepened Ghana's democracy.
Twirling in the background are emerging think tanks and non-governmental organizations such as the Danquah Institute and IMANI that have been taking on the political parties on their issues, dissecting them and pointing out their weaknesses.
From their manifestoes and pronouncements, the parties say the same thing. It doesn't matter if Ghana is practically a two-party system, with the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) being the foremost political parties that could easily win elections.
Philosophically, the NPP projects more private sector ideals than the other parties. The PPP is good on this, too. The NDC, largely seen as anti-private sector, has not been able to extricate itself from its military shadows where it brutally attacked the private sector for Ghana’s economic woos.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the campaigns are more centred on government attempting to provide all goods and services, of which it cannot. This makes the issues games unbalanced, putting enormous burden on the struggling public sector.
That the private sector has not been heavily touted in the campaigns is a big problem for Ghana's developing democracy and progress. The education sector that has received high debate will be better off with the involvement of more private sector investment.
Driven by mass communications gadgets and increasingly enlightened mass media forums, for now, Ghanaians have clear choices of issues in voting for political parties unlike years of invectives that dominated campaigns and blurred the political field.
Additionally, how the opportunity of issues will be implemented to solve Ghana's development problems will be determined by the character and actions of the politicians involved.