Jacques Chirac of the Rally for the Republic party won the 2002 French Presidential elections runoff against Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front. What is remarkable about this election is not that Chirac won by some 82%, but the message that seemingly won it for him – Vote for the Crook, not the Fascist. Both Chirac and Le Pen were very unpopular candidates.
To win, Chirac’s supporters encouraged the french people to choose the lesser of the two evils, in this case being Chirac, the Crook, over Le Pen, the Fascist. What happened in the 2002 French Presidential elections clearly illustrates the lesser evil principle. When voters are faced with two unpopular candidates, they often choose the one they consider the lesser of the two evils.
The Ghanaian version of this slogan is the oft-repeated phrase in the run-up to the 2020 elections by supporters of the NPP – “the alternative is scary”. President Nana Akuffo Addo, who rode to the presidency on the back of incorruptibility and competence, turned out to be one of the greatest “sakawa” ever perpetrated on the Ghanaian public. Prof Gyimah Boadi sums this up when in an interview with Bernard Avle on the Point of View, he remarked that the president’s anti-corruption credentials are in “tatters”. In the run-up to the election, the president had done everything that should ensure that an incumbent president loses the election:
- The special prosecutor who the president touted as being cardinal in his fight against corruption had resigned. He accused the president of interference in his fight against corruption and labelled Nana Addo “the mother serpent of corruption”.
- The president had hounded the Auditor General into a forced Leave and blatantly reversed the anti-corruption measures the Auditor General was putting in place to check the looting of Nana Addo’s Senior Minister, Mr Yaw Osafo Marfo.
- The president and his cousin, the finance minister, had championed the Agyapa deal. This deal was viewed by civil society and the majority of Ghanaians as a scheme to loot Ghana’s mineral resources and put them in a few people’s hands. Incidentally, the person who had been put in charge of executing this scheme was the senior minister’s son.
By any measure, Nana Akuffo Addo went into the 2020 elections as a very unpopular candidate who should be roundly defeated. And that is where the slogan “the alternative is scary” comes in.
The opposition NDC, in apparent self-sabotage, had elected to choose an equally unpopular candidate, Mr John Dramani Mahama, as their flagbearer. Mr Mahama, a former president of Ghana, commands a strong following in the NDC but remains significantly unpopular in the larger Ghanaian community. The supporters of Nana Akuffo Addo knew this. They were betting on the disaffection of Ghanaians with Mr Mahama to secure them the elections. By selecting Mr Mahama, the NDC had lowered the bar for Nana Akufo Addo and reduced the 2020 elections to a contest of two evils. The slogan “the alternative is scary” was hence the response of the NPP to this situation. On 7th December 2020, Ghanaians did go to the polls and choose the lesser of the two evils. The outcome of the parliamentary elections is a clear indication that the NPP had become unpopular. Yet, Ghanaians could not choose Mr Mahama as president and so settled for their version of Chirac.
How have political parties come out of this situation? The US 2016 and 2020 elections provide a good case study.
In the 2016 elections, the US was presented with 2 highly unpopular candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Most Democrats believed Clinton had been foisted on them, and the supporters of Bernie Sanders especially baulked. Mr Trump went on to win the elections, albeit losing the popular vote by a wide margin. What had happened was a version of the lesser evil principle, where the Left especially had refused to vote and handed over the elections to Trump’s supporters.
So what did the Democrats do in 2020? They found a better candidate. They knew that a repeat of Mrs Clinton could become a repeat of 2016, so they looked for a candidate who will break the lesser of 2 evils debacle. Mrs Clinton herself did not run again and left the space to enable the party to re-strategize to win, and win, they did.
In 2024, the NPP will have to field a candidate other than Nana Addo, who would have served his maximum term. It is my hope that they present to Ghanaians a candidate better than Nana Addo. In the same light, I pray that the NDC will provide us with a viable choice, a choice other than Mr Mahama. In the 2024 elections, we do not want to choose between two evils. We do not even want to choose between good and evil. We want to choose between two “goods”. May God bless our homeland Ghana!