2008 Ghana Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: EISA Observer Mission Interim statement

9 December 2008


EISA (formerly the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa) deployed a continental election observer mission to witness Ghana's presidential and parliamentary elections which were held on 7 December 2008. This was in response to an invitation extended by the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana to EISA to observe the elections. The mission was led by EISA's Programmes Director, Dr Khabele Matlosa. The mission consisted of 15 members made up of representatives of Electoral Commissions and civil society organisations (CSOs) from 12 African Countries namely Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mozambique, South Africa, Sierra Leone, the Sudan and Zambia. The mission was preceded in Ghana by a small advance team whose principal mandate was to examine the legal, political and logistical conditions prior to the elections as well as to make arrangements for the arrival of observers.

This was the first time that EISA has deployed an election observer mission outside the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. The extension of EISA's election observation activities to West Africa is in line with the organisation's vision of an African continent where democratic governance, human rights and citizen participation are upheld in a peaceful environment. These elections provided an opportunity for EISA to bring observers from different parts of the African continent to Ghana, particularly those from countries without a long tradition of competitive elections and those with upcoming elections. The main purpose of this was to assess the credibility of the 2008 elections in Ghana as well as to learn lessons from the country's experience in election management and the democratisation process.

Method of Work

EISA carried out its work pursuant to the following objectives:

  • To assess whether conditions exist for the conduct of elections that allow the people of Ghana to freely express their will;
  • To assess and determine whether the elections are conducted in accordance with the constitutional and legal framework for elections in Ghana;
  • To ascertain whether the electoral process in Ghana was conducted in conformity with the 2002 African Union (AU) Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa and the 2005 Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation;
  • To determine whether the final results of the electoral process as a whole reflect the wishes of the people of Ghana.

To this end a two day pre deployment and orientation workshop was organised for EISA observers upon arrival in Accra. Observers discussed the methodology and reflected critically on the practices of election observation. They were later briefed by various stakeholders on the level of preparedness of the poll and were presented with different perspectives on the electoral process. Stakeholders included the EC, political parties, CSOs and academics. The mission also interacted with other international and local observers.

EISA observed the voting and the counting processes in the following regions:

  • Ashanti;
  • Central;
  • Eastern;
  • Greater Accra; and
  • Northern.

Preliminary Observations of the Mission

The EISA Mission made the following preliminary observations, based upon the Accra briefing and observations from EISA teams deployed on the ground:

The Overall Context of the Elections

The 7 December 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana took place against the backdrop of growing disenchantment with the capability of African countries to hold credible and peaceful elections. Recent major setbacks in election management have been witnessed in Nigeria in West Africa (2007), Kenya in East Africa (2007/08) and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa (2008). The Ghanaian elections came after the holding of four successful competitive elections in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004. Stakeholders expressed the hope that members of the Ghanaian electorate would demonstrate their faith in the sustainability of democracy and peace by casting their votes on Election Day.

From a continental perspective Ghana faced two distinctive challenges during these elections. First, the elections were an opportunity for Ghana to provide an example of successful and democratic elections after recent failed elections in Africa. Second, the elections provided an opportunity for the country to consolidate its democracy, peace and political stability. For the EC in particular the challenge posed by the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections was to maintain its widely acclaimed reputation for efficiency and effectiveness in election management. It can be said that Ghana was expected to show the way forward for the rest of Africa.

The Constitutional and Legal Framework for the Elections

The main instruments governing the conduct of elections in Ghana include:

  • The 1992 Constitution;
  • The 1992 and 1996 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Laws;
  • The 2000 Political Parties Law Act 574; and
  • The 2004 Representation of the People (Parliamentary Constituencies) Instrument.

The President's tenure is limited to two four year terms. The winner requires more than 50% of the valid votes cast to be elected President and the Constitution provides for a presidential run off election within 21 days if no winner emerges on the first ballot.

The Parliament of Ghana is a 230 member unicameral chamber elected for a four year term in single member constituencies through a First Past The Post electoral system.

The constitutional and legal framework in place for these elections allowed the people of Ghana to express their will in a free, peaceful and orderly manner.

The mission noted that, unlike elsewhere in Africa, the incumbent, President John Kufuor, did not attempt to change the Constitution to prolong his tenure and thus he did not stand for the 2008 presidential elections. Ghana has provided a fine example of the respect for constitutional provisions limiting terms of office in Africa.

Election Administration

The overall management of elections in Ghana is the responsibility of the Electoral Commission, one of the main governance institutions provided for under the 1992 Constitution. The Commission is tasked to manage the conduct of all public elections and to handle all matters directly relating to the conduct of elections in Ghana.

The mission noted with satisfaction that:

  • The Constitution clearly provides for the independence of the EC therefore allowing the Commission to carry out its duty without any interference whatsoever;
  • The fair conduct of previous elections has contributed to building stakeholder confidence in the electoral process.

Voter Registration

From its consultative meetings with stakeholders ahead of elections, the Mission learnt that a voter registration exercise was conducted in July and August 2008. Stakeholders met by EISA raised the following concerns:

  • The limited duration of the voter registration process;
  • The shortage of registration materials;
  • Allegations of double registrations and registration of minors;
  • The lack of clarity over the cleaning and the auditing of the voters' register;
  • The unethical conduct of political parties during the voter registration process.

The mission is of the view that the EC should improve the voter registration exercise and management of the voters' roll. The mission also recommends that political parties desist from creating confusion in the registration process.

Date of Elections

Elections have been held in Ghana every four years since 1992. Presidential and parliamentary elections are held alongside each other, generally on 7 December. This is unlike other cases on the African continent where the timing of elections is used for political mileage by incumbents. The holding of elections on a predictable date in Ghana should be highly commended and can serve as an example of best practice for other African countries.

Voter Education and Information

The mission took positive note of various voter education and information programmes undertaken throughout the country in order to enhance participation and encourage voters to make an informed choice. Some stakeholders made representations to EISA observers about the insufficiency and inadequacy of these programmes.

The mission also noted various civic education campaigns aimed at promoting a peaceful election by the Inter-Party Advisory Committee and the National Peace Council.

Funding of Political Parties

Political parties are the backbone of representative democracy. If political parties are institutionally weak, democracy may be at serious risk. Parties therefore need to be strengthened so that they can build their own democratic structures and become effective agents of democracy.

The mission encourages Ghana to provide public funding to political parties for election purposes. This will level the playing field and strength the democratisation process in the country.

The Campaign Process

The election campaign was generally calm and orderly. It allowed all presidential and parliamentary candidates to convey their messages to the electorate without any form of open intimidation and was conducted with tolerance and maturity.

However some stakeholders met by the mission raised concerns over the misuse of the incumbency with regard to the use of public resources and access to public media.

The mission would particularly like to commend Ghanaian civil society for organising presidential debates and for providing platforms for parliamentary aspirants to discuss key issues of concern to voters. This helped to diffuse some of the pre election tension that could have disturbed the electoral process. More importantly it shifted the focus of the campaign from a region, ethnicity and personality oriented process to an issue based one.

Gender Equality

Ghana has been commended for its leading role in promoting the principles of representative democracy in Africa. The mission noted that women were well represented among the polling staff. However the lack of representation of women among the presidential candidates and their insufficient representation among parliamentary aspirants are major sources of concern.

Ghana has committed to gender equality as stipulated in the 2003 AU Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa and the 2007 African Charter of Democracy, Elections and Governance. The mission recommends that the political process should be more inclusive of all marginalised social groups including women, youth and people with disabilities.

Voting and Counting Processes

EISA teams observed voting operations from the beginning at 07h00 until the close at 17h00. The teams also observed the counting process.

Despite some hitches including late arrival of election materials and late opening of a few polling stations, the EISA teams observed that the voting and counting processes were conducted smoothly. The presence of the security forces enhanced the orderly and peaceful process of the poll. Most polling agents appeared to be well trained and to have a fairly good understanding of their responsibilities. They interacted well with voters as well as with domestic and international observers.

An area that needs to be considered by the EC is the allocation of polling stations in order to cater for population density as some polling stations seemed to be overcrowded throughout voting while at others, queues rapidly eased in the course of the day. However the mission considers the huge participation of voters at polling stations an indication of high interest in the electoral process and a potential indicator of high voter turnout.


Based on our observations at this stage of the electoral process it is the view of the EISA mission that the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections were conducted in a manner that allowed the Ghanaian voters to freely elect their leaders in a peaceful environment. These elections have contributed to the consolidation of the democratic process, peace and stability in Ghana.

The mission commends the Electoral Commission of Ghana for maintaining its reputation for professionalism and impartiality in the conduct of elections and the people of Ghana for the peaceful climate that prevailed throughout the electoral process. The mission further commends various stakeholders including political parties, faith based organisations, CSOs, security forces and the Judiciary for ensuring a peaceful and transparent electoral process.

It is our hope that the management and the announcement of election results as well as the settlement of potential electoral disputes will also be conducted with the same level of transparency, integrity and responsibility.

A more comprehensive report with detailed findings, highlighting lessons learned and making pertinent recommendations for the improvement of election management in Ghana will be published within 90 days.

EISA is a continental non profit organisation established in 1996 and headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, with field offices in the DRC (Kinshasa), Mozambique (Maputo), Madagascar (Antananarivo), Sudan (Khartoum) and Côte d'Ivoire (Abidjan). EISA strives for excellence in the promotion of credible elections, participatory democracy, human rights culture, and the strengthening of governance institutions for the consolidation of democracy in Africa. EISA services electoral commissions, political parties, civil society organisations, governments and other institutions operating in the democracy and governance fields in Africa.

Dr Khabele Matlosa
Mission Leader

Dr Matlosa took over as Mission Leader from Mr Kadima.