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Kennedy Agyapong vs. Dr Mahamudu Bawumia

We are two weeks away from the November 4 primary. The New Patriotic Party (NPP) will finally select its flag bearer for the 2024 presidential election.

Four candidates are vying for the ultimate prize but anyone who has been following the race keenly will agree with me that it feels like a contest between Hon. Kennedy Agyapong and His Excellency the Vice-President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia.

I affectionately call it a race between the anti-establishment (Hon. Ken) and the establishment (Dr Bawumia).

I have no doubt that these two candidates have a deep love for their party. I also have no doubt that they both have a genuine desire to lead the party come 2024. The two candidates are obviously different in their political temperaments. But I am quite struck by how different their campaign approaches are.

Two contrasting approaches

What are some of the contrasting approaches in the way the two candidates are vying to be party flag bearer? First, Hon. Ken Agyapong’s campaign feels like a general election campaign with his message directed to the Ghanaian people and not just party delegates. It is as if he is saying “dear delegates, I have national appeal so choose me.”  The Vice-President, Dr Bawumia, is running the classic primary election campaign by engaging in retail politics- winning the hearts and minds of delegates through personal engagements. Not a single week goes by without spotting a flyer on social media announcing an upcoming travel to some constituency to engage delegates.

The second contrast in their approach is media engagement. Hon. Ken has been quite present in various media spaces granting interviews. In these interviews, he has spoken on a wide range of topics including the state of the country’s economy, the government’s performance in office, and the ideas he hopes to implement if he becomes president. That direct engagement is part of the reason why his approach feels like a general election campaign.

Dr Bawumia has so far stayed away from direct media engagement. But I must note that his campaign staff have been very present and active in media spaces. Media engagements are important, but it is my suspicion that he wants to engage those who truly matter to his fate on November 4 hence the focus on delegates for now. I am not sure he plans to, and I also don’t think it is possible not to directly engage the media at some point. This is especially true if he is selected as the party’s flag bearer.

The third key contrast I have observed is how the two candidates are handling their party’s record and conduct in office over the last seven years. Have you listened to Hon. Ken in his various interviews lately? Have you picked up on the things he has said about his own party? He regularly interjects with one of his favourite phrases “I am not afraid to speak the truth.” In fact, during party primaries, it is instructive the kind of political material that candidates can generate for their opponents on the other side of the political aisle.

Vice-President Dr Bawumia has taken a totally different approach by maintaining the highest form of decorum on this. But it goes back to my earlier point – the focus for him I believe is the primary with the guiding philosophy of “win the primary first.” In addition, he faces a different political dilemma than Hon. Ken, I will argue. Every NPP candidate faces this, but I think as head of the economic management team, the dilemma is more pronounced for him. What is this political dilemma? It is how to speak about the economic challenges faced compounded by governance concerns without appearing to be “throwing the party under the bus.” And while doing all this, making sure you win the hearts and minds of delegates.

It is no easy task because it means candidates will have to run two very different campaigns – one designed for the primary (immediate task) and other for the general election (later task) with two different audiences in mind. It reminds me of the 2012 presidential election in the US, when a senior advisor to Candidate Mitt Romney said “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again” in reference to how a candidate deals with a primary and a general election.
Who wins the contest?

Different does not mean one approach is better than the other. Political campaigns choose the strategies that work best for what they hope to accomplish.

November 4 is just two weeks away. Who will win? I have repeatedly said the establishment will prevail. But I am sure the establishment’s anti-establishment candidate is still hoping there will be a showdown.
Interesting political times ahead.

The writer is a Democracy and Development fellow at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana).

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