5 reasons Ghanaians don't trust elections

Story highlights

  • Ghana' s presidential and parliamentary election will be held on December 7, 2016
  • The country's faith in the electoral process plummeted after the last two elections

(CNN)This week the world turns it spotlight on Ghana as the West African country of 27 million people takes to the polls.

However, not all Ghanaians have faith in the electoral process. A recent Afrobarometer report surveying 36 African countries placed Ghana among those with the least trust in elections, with 37% saying they trust their electoral commission somewhat or a lot, compared to 50% across all countries surveyed.
Trust plummeted 22 percentage points between 2011 and 2015, the biggest drop among all countries surveyed.
    "Ghanaians overall have had some of the biggest declines in views on election quality in comparison to other African countries," says lead author Penar, a researcher and lecturer in political science at Michigan State University.
    From bribery to fear and intimidation, we take a look at the key reasons behind the distrust, as identified by the researchers.

    1. Concern about the fairness of vote counts

    Less than half (42%) of Ghanaians surveyed by Afrobarometer believe that their votes are always or often counted fairly.
    "That's lower than the African average. That shows there is some concern about what's going on behind the scenes."
    A poll from October, conducted by the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), Afrobarometer's partner in Ghana, showed that 44% of Ghanaians worry that the wrong tally will be announced, with nearly a third (31%) concerned that their votes will not be counted properly, according to Penar, who has analyzed the results.
    A protest after the 2008 election which saw delays in the announcement of the results.

    2. Intimidation during campaigns

    The surveys have also shown that some voters feel pressurized or even intimidated into voting a certain way, according to Penar.
    "Some believe there will be consequences to casting the vote for one side or the other. They are afraid they would come under some sort of scrutiny for casting their vote for one party or another."
    When asked how much respondents fear becoming a victim of political intimidation or violence during election campaigns, 36% of Ghanaians answered somewhat or a lot.

    3. Violence at the polls

    Also violence at the polls may influence the lack of trust, according to Afrobarometer. When asked how often this occurs, the majority of Ghanaians surveyed (59%) said voters are sometimes (30%), often or always (29%) threatened with violence.
    While not as high as some other parts of Africa, the figure is not to be dismissed.
    "If you have even 15% feeling that sense of fear, that's a high number. Any number on there is high," Penar says.
    People have lower expectations when it comes to African countries compared to other parts of the world, he added.

    4. Bribery and vote-buying

    Bribery and vote buying have been hot topics in the lead up to this election, Penar says.
    "Vote buying can be small things like cash transfers, or money or clothing or food."
    Among Ghanaians surveyed by Afrobarometer, 49% say voters are often or always bribed, with 26% saying sometimes. Across the 36 African countries surveyed, 43% say voters are often or always bribed, with 26% saying sometimes.
    More recently, 69% of people in the pre-election survey said it was very likely or likely for parties and candidates to buy votes.
    Polls have showed that Ghanaians have a more optimistic view when discussing future elections.
    It's a complicated topic to poll, however, as most people won't admit to taking bribes, which is why the survey's questions instead asked for people's opinion on how often voters are bribed, Penar explains.
    In a recent CDD poll, for example, 91% said they never had any experience of vote-buying.
    "It seems like people think it's going on, but they are not necessarily having major experiences," Penar says.
    The polls have also showed some concern about the so-called power of incumbency, which relates to larger infrastructure projects such as roads and hospitals being built or commissioned in the months leading up to the election.
    "There is a lot of talk about this now in Ghana."

    5. An improving democratic process

    However, there are caveats with looking at public opinion studies, as the results don't necessarily reflect the levels of democracy in a country directly.
    High levels of distrust among the public could actually be a sign that the country's electoral process is advancing and the level of transparency increasing, according to Penar.
    "Once you open the box, you notice that everything is not completely fine when you have that level of transparency."
    "It leads people to see the inner workings of these processes and the pitfalls that were always there," he adds.
    For example, when Afrobaromer's researchers turned to experts to compare opinions on the freeness and fairness of the last election, they found that ordinary Ghanaians were significantly more critical than the human rights experts at Freedom House.
    Are Ghanaians getting more optimistic?

    A brighter horizon?

    Ghanaians seem to show the most distrust in the months and years after an election, which could be attributed to the history of post-election disputes in Ghana.
    "Ghana has had a lot of issues with post-election dispute processes and opposition parties not being satisfied with those and some concerns about how elections are managed."
    However, over the past few months Ghanaians appear to have regained some faith in the process for the future, with pre-election polls from CDD contrasting the Afrobarometer surveys, which looked more at past elections.
    "From 77% in July, now in October 83% believe that the election will be completely free and fair, or free and fair with minor problems," says Penar.
    "People are at least giving this election process some space to happen and there is some optimism there."