Opinion

NPP Primaries: The New Juaben South contest – A lackluster incumbent or overrated opposition?

The New Juaben South contest is one of those to watch in the NPP primaries this weekend. The two contenders, Dr Mark Assibey-Yeboah and Michael Okyere Baafi are old foes as they have slugged it out before in 2015 with the former emerging victorious.

The Current New Juaben South Constituency was carved out of the old Koforidua constituency in 2012. At the advent of Ghana’s fourth Republican Constitution in 1992, the area that is currently known as the New Juaben South was part of the Old Koforidua Constituency.

The first parliamentarian in the Constituency was from the NDC in the person of David Sarpong Boateng. This is due to the fact that in 1992, the NPP boycotted the parliamentary elections across the country. If the NPP had contested, there is every likelihood that the seat would have been taken by that party.

In the 1996 election, Yaw Barimah took over the reins of the constituency up until 2009 after serving three terms. Bernice Boateng also of the NPP served for a term till 2013. In the 2012 election, Dr. Mark Assibey Yeboah earned the right to represent the Constituency. He obtained 240 votes while the then incumbent, Bernice Boateng managed 61 votes. In the 2015 primaries in the constituency, Dr. Mark Assibey Yeboah retained his seat with 295 votes beating competition from Michael Okyere Baafi.

Micheal Okyere Baafi is currently the Executive Director of the Free Zones Authority.

Why is the 2020 Primary Interesting?

The contest coming up on Saturday, June 20, 2020, can best be described as a clash of old foes. This is due to how close the contest was in the last parliamentary primary. A closer look at the contenders reveals that they are both men of great standing. Dr. Mark Assibey–Yeboah is currently the chairman of the Finance Committee of parliament. An economist by training, Dr. Mark Assibey-Yeboah obtained his PhD at the University of Tennessee in the United States of America. He since then worked as a Senior Economist at the Bank of Ghana and a lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration and the Ghana Technology University College. All this was before he entered parliament in 2012. And in the House, he has risen through the ranks from the backbenches to be Chairman of one of the most important committees of parliament.  Michael Okyere Baafi, on the other hand, possesses a Bachelor’s degree in Education and a Masters in Risk Management from the University of Cape Coast and a Master of Business Administration degree in Marketing and Corporate Strategy from the University of Ghana Business School.

In the final analysis, the election will be down to who can obtain the highest number of votes from delegates. Word going around in the constituency suggests that Micheal Okyere Baafi has a message that resonates with many persons in the constituency but as to whether he will obtain the highest number of votes from the delegates is a big matter of contention.

There was a clear indication as to the stakes involved when the incumbent wrote on Friday, June 12 to the General Secretary of the NPP, John Boadu, in connection with the album of voters in the constituency. A part of the letter said, “I write to convey to you reports reaching me from the New Juaben South Constituency which indicates that there has been an attempt to tamper with the constituency album that will be used in the impending primaries.” This suggests that there is a turf war for the votes on the day.

The fact remains, however, that, if Dr Assibey-Yeboah loses, the constituency is denied the competence of an MP highly regarded as an effective chairman of the Finance Committee. A position that can be used to lobby for projects for constituents. It remains to be seen how the MP used that position to the benefit of his constituent if he did at all.

In Baafi, though, the constituency will have a person who would take some time to rise through the ranks in the House from the back to the front bench with the same abilities of lobbying and influence. Even though it has been said that the Free Zones boss has been generous to his constituents by virtue of his office, the turf in parliament and how to get things done to positively influence one’s constituents is something Baafi will have to now learn.

Assibey-Yeboah under Pressure?

The current MP appears to be under siege because there is word around that the constituency executives who determine who the delegates are are mostly in the camp of Baafi. This explains his letter to the general secretary regarding the album of delegates. This is curious though as it is trite knowledge that MPs all over the country try to influence who gets into such positions as low as polling station executives just to consolidate their grip on power. If Dr Assibey-Yeboah failed to do this, then he will have himself to blame if the verdict does not go his way on June 20. If he tried, but his ‘men’ were overpowered, then I am sure he would be anticipating defeat by now.

From the historical patterns of voting in the constituency, it is clear, that whoever wins the primary will win the constituency. It doesn’t really matter who wins the primary. For a constituency like this, the focus of the eventual candidate will not be winning the election as it is a foregone conclusion. The issue is who has the ability to increase the vote margin and work to help the Presidential candidate of the party to also increase his numbers in the area. The over 800 delegates in Saturday’s elections, aside from the goodies they may be receiving from both camps must critically think about this question since the ultimate aim will be to keep the Jubilee House.

The fact remains, however, that, if Dr Assibey-Yeboah loses, the constituency denied the competence of an MP highly regarded as an effective chairman of the Finance Committee. A position that can be used to lobby for projects for constituents. It remains to be seen how the MP used that position to the benefit of his constituents, if he did at all.

On the outside, Dr Assibey-Yeboah appears to have given visibility to the constituency and put them on the map. This, however, may only be the view of the outside observer, the experience of constituents may be different and it is their opinion that will count. There is a sense in the constituency that Dr Assibey-Yeboah has had his time as MP and that the entire voter population seem to prefer a new face to represent the constituency in parliament. Perhaps, this accounts for Baafi’s increasing popularity. He should, however, ensure that the popularity is with the right group of people, as the June 20 contest is not a popular votes contest. It is an election among a privileged group of people. But what actually does a new face mean? Just any new person or a new person with substance and vision? And is Baafi really that new person?

Conclusion

Looking at how close the contest is, there cannot be a safe prediction as to who will win the seat. What is clear is that the final moments to the election will be key because, on the day of the primary, a lot can happen. As they say, a day in the life of a politician on an election day can be very key.

The writer, Duke Mensah Opoku, is Citi FM/Citi TV’s Parliamentary Correspondent.

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