Political Campaign: Why Ghana needs a regulated calendar

Political Campaign: Why Ghana needs a regulated calendar

Since independence, Ghana’s electoral politics has seen significant changes owing to the ever-changing political dynamics and technological advancements in global politics. Indeed, participation in party politics, like in most advanced democracies, keeps expanding in scope and form in Ghana.

From a one-party state in the First Republic through five successive military takeovers to the current multiparty dispensation, Ghana’s elections and election-related activities have experienced consistent reforms to match emerging needs.

Political activities are an essential part of the governance and policymaking process. As such, how these activities are conducted in a democracy ultimately impacts the governance process. It is for this reason that most democracies regulate them. Electoral politics is an integral aspect of political activities in a democracy.

Electioneering Campaigns have increasingly become indispensable in electoral politics in contemporary times. Campaigns reflect the general shift towards issue-based politics, widen the scope of political participation, and allow voters to make choices among policy alternatives and other variables. Scmitt-Beck R. and David M. Farrell defined a political campaign in their book, “Political Campaigns and Their Effect,” “as a process that consists of an organized communication effort involving the role of one or more agencies (be they political parties, government agencies, special interest groups, etc.) seeking to influence the outcome of processes of political decision-making by shaping public opinion.” This primarily consists of a purposive top-down flow of strategic communication, routinely originating from the political elite, interest groups, and lobbying organizations to mobilize popular support from the general public.

Recently, political actors of all sorts have increasingly come to view political campaigning as an essential supplement to their engagement in policymaking. By investing ever more efforts and resources into political campaigns, they seek to mobilize support among the masses, persuade citizens of their causes and alternative ideas, and inform the citizenry about public policies and political activities. So far as the actors are concerned, such campaigns matter greatly. Those waging campaigns believe that these efforts help them to achieve their political goals and, thus, count in the political process.

Regulatory Regimes for Political Campaigns in Some Countries.​

In the political realm, electioneering campaigns have become sophisticated, and their conduct has substantial cost implications. They are usually designed in different ways to achieve different results, the ultimate of which is to appeal to and win the mass public for positive electoral outcomes. Depending on the type of political activity, they come in the form of referendum campaigns, policy-related information campaigns, and image campaigns.

The mass media is considered a huge factor in politics in general and in electioneering campaigns specifically. Aside from creating the platform and interface for political actors to engage voters and citizens, they equally let their space for image campaigns. They craftily engage in issue-centering and shaping opinions in tandem with their editorial policies and their ideological persuasions. Given this, some countries have put in place legislation to regulate campaigns and their mode of transmission. Many governments subject election campaign dates and maximum duration to legal regulation.

The following are some examples of countries that have adopted calendars for electioneering campaigning, which are strictly regulated by legislation:

1.​ The Election Code of Bulgaria states in Article 175 that the election campaign starts 30 days before Election Day. In furtherance, Article 182 of the Election Code provides that no canvassing is permitted during a period beginning 24 hours before and continuing throughout Election Day. Finally, Article 205 of the Election Code provides that results of public opinion polls relating to the elections may not be made public in any form whatsoever during a period starting 24 hours before Election Day and ending with the announcement of the closing of the polls.

2. ​Article 15 of Law No. 77-729 of 1977 of France provides that the election campaign may begin from the second Monday preceding the election date. During the day before and on the day of the election, no election polls may be published, broadcast, or commented on by any means whatsoever. For the election of Members to the European Parliament, this prohibition takes effect throughout the national territory as of midnight on the Saturday preceding the polls. This prohibition ends at the closing of the last polling station in the metropolitan territory.

3.​ According to Sections 1 and 2 of the Pre-election Campaign Law of Latvia, the Pre-election campaign for European Elections lasts from the 120th day before the elections until Election Day. It also prohibits conducting campaigns as a paid service on public electronic communication networks, including on the Internet. Likewise, on Election Day and 30 days before Election Day, it is prohibited to include campaign materials in TV programmes and broadcasts of an electronic mass medium, except for the state-provided free broadcasting time.

4. ​The Polish Electoral Code stipulates in Article 104 that the election campaign period starts on the day of the promulgation of the act convening the elections by the competent authority and ends 24 hours before Election Day. Moreover, the Electoral Code provides that the campaign period starts on the day when Election Day is announced. In furtherance, Article 331(2) of the Electoral Code provides that the Polish President should issue an order to hold an election using a decree no later than 90 days before Election Day.

5. ​In Portugal, the duration for electioneering campaigns is 12 days before the day of the elections. Article 10 of the Law on Elections to the European Parliament applies to the election of Members of the Assembly of the Republic. It shall apply to the action and discipline of the election campaign of Members of the European Parliament, including the respective right to airtime. The same article stipulates that when general and European elections are held on the same date, the campaign for the European elections must be of the same duration as that for the Assembly of the Republic.

Due to the fragmentation of the electoral calendar and campaign periods applicable to the European Union member states, in May 2022, the European Union Parliament adopted the Draft Legislative Act, proposing to repeal the European Electoral Act of 1976. Specifically, Article 17 of this Draft Act proposes to introduce standard provisions for election campaigns such that all Member States would have harmonized electoral procedures, including but not limited to providing more detailed provisions for the electoral calendar. Among other propositions, Article 17 of the Draft Act envisages that electioneering campaigning in whatever form would not start until eight weeks before Election Day and that Member States would implement an electoral reserve silence period of 48 hours ahead of Election Day, within which electoral campaign would be strictly prohibited. Additionally, Member States must finalize their electoral roll at least 14 weeks before Election Day and fix the deadline for tabling the list of candidates for elections at 12 weeks before Election Day.

The Electoral Laws of Ghana

The sources of law in Ghana are stipulated under Article 11 of the 1992 Constitution. The 1992 Constitution of Ghana is the supreme law of the Republic; before it, all other laws are subservient. The Constitution thus gives birth to all other laws while distributing powers and responsibilities to state institutions, including the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana.

Chapter 7 of the 1992 Constitution, titled “The Representation of the People,” provides the legal framework for the electoral architecture of Ghana. Article 41 (under Chapter 7) of the Constitution proclaims that “There shall be an Electoral Commission which shall consist of — (a) a Chairman; (b) two Deputy Chairmen; and (c) four other members.” The Commission, like other statutory bodies, was thus created by an Act of Parliament, namely “The Electoral Commission Act, 1993 (Act 451). Aside from the few provided by the Constitution, its functions are detailed in the Act.

To effectively deliver its mandate within the law context, the EC is empowered by the Constitution to further legislate through Constitutional Instruments. Under Article 51 of the Constitution, “the Electoral Commission shall, by constitutional instrument, make regulations for the effective performance of its functions under this Constitution or any other law, and in particular, for the registration of voters, the conduct of public elections and referenda, including provision for voting by proxy.” The Electoral Commission Act, 1993, Act 451 created the Commission and designated its functions and powers. This is to give effect to Article 51 of the 1992 Constitution. Section 12(1) of Act 451 reads:

“The Commission shall by the Constitutional instrument, make regulations for the effective performance of its functions under this act or any other law, and in particular for – (a) the registration of voters for public elections and referenda; (b) the conduct and supervision of the public elections and referenda, including provision for voting by proxy; (c) the issue of identity cards; and (d) other matters concerned with the foregoing.”

The Combined effect of Article 51 of the 1992 Constitution and Section 12 of Act 451 empowers the EC to make Constitutional Instruments to regulate and conduct public elections in all forms. As a result, some of the Constitutional Instruments made thus far include but are not limited to:

1.​ The Electoral (Regional Representatives on Council of State) Regulations, 1993, CI 1

2.​ Public Elections (District Assembly) Instrument, 1993, CI 2

3.​ Public Elections (District Assembly) Instrument, 1993, CI 4

4.​ District Assembly Bye-Elections, 1994, CI 8

5.​ District Level Election Regulation, 2015, CI 89

6.​ Public Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations, 2016, CI 91

7.​ Public Elections Regulations, 2020, CI 127

8. ​Representation of the People (Parliamentary Constituencies) Instrument, 2020, CI 128

Besides these Constitutional Instruments, the Electoral Commission has adopted other pieces of legislation to regulate the conduct of elections and related activities. Some of these legislations are PNDC Laws: for instance, the Presidential Elections Act, 1992 (PNDCL 285), the Representation of the People’s Act, 1992 (PNDCL 284), Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2006 (ROPAA) (Act 699), among others.

Political Campaign in Ghana.

Electioneering campaigns have become an integral part of Ghana’s electoral process. Although not regulated by legislation per se, political campaigns are conducted within the confines of best practice and an open-ended legal framework. Apart from District Assembly Elections, which have specific legislation barring campaigns in their proper sense, all other forms of elections (i.e., Presidential, Parliamentary, Bye-elections, etc.) do not have such strict prohibitions on campaigns aside from sanctions stipulated in the electoral offenses law. The District Assembly Elections Act, as amended, 1994 (Act 473) provides in section 6(1) that “No person shall mount a platform or cause a platform to be mounted to promote or canvass for the election of a candidate to a District Assembly unless the Commission has so authorized.” This prohibits campaigns in whatever form during the conduct of District Assembly Elections.

Unlike the strict provision in Act 473 prohibiting open campaigns during District Assembly Elections, the construction of Article 55(3) in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana makes for an open-ended interpretation and, thus, allows campaigns by political parties/actors without strict regulation. According to Article 55(3), “a political party is free to participate in shaping the political will of the people, to disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character, and sponsor candidates for elections to any public office other than to District Assemblies or lower local government units.”

This omnibus provision needs to demarcate the boundaries within which dissemination of information should be conducted. The closest of such strict prohibitions are stipulated in Ghana’s electoral offenses, particularly on the 24-hour silence period. It states, “All Political campaigns must cease 24 hours before the elections, and failure to adhere to this directive compromises the political party, which would be in breach of the electoral code of Ghana and thus committing an electoral offense.” Also, the Political Parties Code of Conduct of 2012 rehashed the same offences related to campaigning as in the electoral offences. In both cases, a campaign calendar has yet to be set out, thus leaving political parties and their agents to apply their partisan discretion regarding when to start campaigning and how.

Meanwhile, in Africa, some countries have adopted legislative frameworks establishing calendars for the campaigns and regulating political campaigns in general. Section 94(1) of the Electoral Act of Nigeria provides that “…the period of campaigning in public elections by every political party shall commence 150 days before polling day and end 24 hours before that day.” So, in Nigeria, political parties do not have limitless time to conduct their campaign activities. Also, by statute, only 50 days before the general election are allocated for political campaigns in Kenya.

Like other democracies, electioneering campaigns come in different forms in Ghana. The most common and expensive platform campaigns require political parties and their candidates to reach out to voters at their respective regions, constituencies, and polling stations. The candidates must engage voters by speaking to issues of development, policy alternatives, and pertinent issues that should be addressed.

This form of campaign is as expensive as it is time-consuming.Other campaigns include placing adverts in newspapers, billboards, audio-visual media outlets, documentaries, etc. These varied forms of campaigns have made them sophisticated, complex, and often expensive. As such, the challenges associated with unregulated political campaigns are enormous.

Given that there is no regulatory election campaign calendar in Ghana, political campaigning remains conveniently cyclical, allowing for parties in power to campaign, directly or indirectly, throughout their term in power. Also, while the opposition always has a field day to design and execute campaign activities anytime within the year, the government and its associated agencies use the state machinery and muscle to engage in covert campaign activities.

This often distracts governments in power from concentrating on actual development issues and dilutes earnest national conversations, so much so that even issues, such as natural disasters that cost lives and property, find expression in covert campaign messages from both government and opposition whenever they occur. Thus, the line between political campaigns and national conversations could be more precise, making it easier for citizens to switch from their partisan inclinations to national patriotic obligations.​

Now and then, new billboards carrying one advert or another spring up. Regional and constituency tours by political parties and their candidates to engage voters are carried out without recourse to time or regulation. This situation robs citizens of the opportunity to confront issues appropriately as politicians and their media allies engage in agenda-setting and issue-centering to control the conversation and voters’ thoughts all the time.

These and many other challenges create clogs in the political system. The opportunity is always limited for voters to properly interrogate the issues and policy alternatives proffered by political parties and their candidates before making their choices. It is, therefore, no surprise that voters ultimately end up getting hoodwinked and shortchanged.


The electoral process and laws have experienced several reforms to match our changing demands and progress. For example, to combat electoral fraud, especially concerning the prevalence of double registration and registration of minors, the Electoral Commission of Ghana adopted the Public Elections of Voters, 2012 (CI 72), which introduced the biometric registration system. This C.I. came to reform the existing C.I., Public Elections Regulation, 1996 (CI 15).

By the construction of Article 46 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana and section 3 of the Electoral Commission (Amendment) Act, 2003 (Act 655), the Commission, in the performance of its functions as provided in the Constitution and the Act, shall be and remain independent of any institution, authority or a person. By implication, no institution, authority or person shall dictate to the EC how to conduct its business, as such, any recommendations made by any institution, authority or person, as far as practicable, such recommendation(s) shall not bind the Commission.

Notwithstanding its independence, the Commission has over the years worked closely with key stakeholders in the electoral process to ensure transparency and confidence in the system. Some of the key stakeholders include the political parties constituted into the Inter Party Advisory Committee (IPAC), the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), International Observer Groups, among others.

Indeed, the concept of IPAC (non-statutory advisory body) was conceived and eventually formed in March 1994 after the fallout in the 1992 general elections. Since its inception, IPAC has played a vital role in electoral reforms in the electoral process of Ghana. Some of the reforms proposed by IPAC which were adopted and implemented by the Commission include:

  1. To root out multiple registrations, the EC adopted a new mode of registration of voters in 1995 after IPAC made recommendations to that effect. So, the voter register inherited by the EC from the National Commission for Democracy in 1987 which was used in the conduct of the 1992 election was thus replaced with a totally new register;
  2. In 1992, two separate elections were conducted (i.e. the Presidential Elections in November and Parliamentary elections in December, 1992). Based on a number of allegations leveled by the NPP and other opposition parties, they subsequently boycotted the Parliamentary elections. As a result, the NPP and the other parties made certain recommendations through IPAC, among which were the replacement of opaque ballot boxes with transparent ones, presence of polling agents at the polling stations, tracking of electoral materials and ballot boxes;
  3. Replacement of plain Voter ID cards with photo ID cards and subsequently transitioned to a colored Photo ID instead of black and white;
  4. Through IPAC recommendations, the EC has extended the period of notice for voter registration from 14 days 21 days;
  5. The adoption of a Biometric Verification Devices to ensure further transparency in the electoral system.The Electoral Commission of Ghana in May 2021, conveyed an IPAC review workshop on the 2020 Presidential and Parliamentary elections of Ghana aimed at assessing the election 2020 and to take recommendations from political parties for reforms. Consequent to this, a number of proposals were put forward some of which were accepted by IPAC while others were rejected.

It is worthy of note that the National Democratic Congress boycotted IPAC and its related activities prior to this 2021 IPAC workshop. This means that the concerns and recommendations of the party were not considered and incorporated into the final agreement. In view of this, the party put forward its recommendations to the EC subsequently. Among others the NDC proposed that:

  1. The appointment of the Chairpersons of the EC must be given prior Parliamentary approval so that the President does not have the absolute power to appoint;
  2. The requirement for the consent of the Attorney-General before prosecution of electoral offences should be repealed, and in furtherance, specially-designated courts should be appointed to exclusively deal with electoral related offences, before, during and after general elections;
  3. The Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) should be made to comply with the Supreme Court decision for it to provide equal access to all political parties so that the government who is always a party will have undue advantage over the other opposition parties;
  4. IPAC should be backed by legislation through an amendment to the Electoral Commission Act, 1993, Act 451, which should spell out its composition and its functions;
  5. The Electoral Commission should be split into two separate bodies namely an Office for the Regulation of Political Parties (ORPP) and an Electoral Commission (EC) by amending the Political Parties Act, 2000, Act 574;

The voting period of 7am to 5pm must be maintained to ensure that nobody is disenfranchised for want of time.

The reforms in our electoral system referred to above and many others over the period, some of which have been considered and others still pending before the EC were necessitated by adapting the system to changing circumstances in our democracy. However, more such reforms and legislations are needed for the electoral system to conform to best practices.

Though the electioneering campaign has become one of the most critical parts of the electoral process in Ghana, it still needs to be more regulated and structured. Given the myriad of problems this lacuna has created, proposing a calendar for electioneering campaigns anchored on strict legislation is imperative. This must be streamlined into our electoral laws so that the Electoral Management Body, Civil Society Organizations, and other critical stakeholders in our electoral process can monitor, regulate, and manage it. Like voter registration, voter exhibition, and other formal exercises, electioneering campaigns should be conducted in strict accordance with a regulatory calendar. Like Nigeria, Ghana may also adopt the 150 days (5 months) for political campaigns and related activities, if not less.

To be effective, the proposed legislation should also clearly define what constitutes a campaign to prevent political parties or individual candidates from exploiting definitional loopholes to design covert activities targeted at canvassing for votes or promoting candidates. For example, political parties must remove all political party billboards and posters that have taken over our cities all term round some days (say 48 hours) after the declaration of results. The proposed legislation should also provide strict penalties for offending individuals or parties.  Coincidentally, as part of its recommendations during the 2021 workshop, IPAC also recommended that electioneering campaigns should be regulated with a well defined calendar, commencing only after candidates have filed their nominations.

As discussed earlier, our peers in the democratic journey – Nigeria and Kenya – have taken the lead. This gives Ghana a unique opportunity to learn from these countries in adopting a regulatory framework for electioneering campaigns that aligns with our political environment and context.

Electioneering campaigns, like voter registration and other electoral process exercises, require formal regulation as we continue to smooth the rough edges of Ghana’s 31-year democratic experiment. Such legislation, must be adopted, as a matter of urgency, to avoid the current unregulated and unstructured electioneering landscape.

Email; c.mahama@outlook.com

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