John Mahama’s future has been the subject of immense interest since losing the presidential elections last December. The sirens purporting his possible comeback started sounding almost immediately after conceding. The National Organizer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Kofi Adams stated in a media interview that: “President John Mahama is still attractive and I can assure you that he will come back in 2020. He will contest the elections.” Mr. Mahama himself has remained cagey but has not ruled out the idea. The door remains open.
Pro: The case for Mahama
John Mahama is arguably the most popular person in the NDC right now-- well that is aside J.J Rawlings. This is based on three reasons: (a) he's their most recent presidential contender (b) he still enjoys some popularity, public prominence and media coverage as a former president and (c) he scored a whopping 95% in the last party primary. Let's face it: his mere stature as a former president gives him some gravitas nobody else in the party aside Jerry Rawlings can claim. All these factors make former president Mahama the leading contender for the party slot.
Party Machinery and Delegates
The NDC just lost a major election but Mahama's hold on the party machinery and delegates is still fresh. As president he enjoyed unfettered access to party structures. This would put him ahead in any primary. His influence within the party cannot be discounted and some delegates may still feel a sense of loyalty to the former president.
Money matters have always been crucial in any presidential campaign. As the immediate past president, Mahama should have some strong connections to help pull in big donations to his campaign.
Communication, Eloquence and Appeal
That Mahama is a pro when it comes to communication is no secret. He is personally charismatic and easily connects with ordinary folks; something contenders like Bagbin and to an extent Spio-Garbrah would struggle with. There is also the fact of a pool or coterie of fierce Mahama loyalists who have made it their life time goal to see John Mahama back at the Flagstaff House. Four years is long enough in politics and a combination of factors including, the performance of the Nana Addo regime and how Mahama frames or carries himself could instigate a feeling of nostalgia. If JDM walks the thin line of making himself relevant, being a statesman and remains removed enough from the daily political mudslinging some might actually start to miss him. In politics, you never say never.
Experience, energy and emotion
One lost election, does not destroy a career. John Mahama could ride the swansong of Ghana’s politics by making a big comeback. He has energy, hunger, passion and experience. Life, they say, is full of mountains and valleys and former President Mahama may only see this as a little blot in a storied career. One cannot bet on an epic comeback actually happening—but counting him out will be politically naive. He may have made history with 44.4% but he could upend and rewrite it with one big maneuver. History beckons. Would JDM be tempted enough?
Con: the case against Mahama
John Mahama’s record in government is still fresh, widely known and partly problematic. The jury is still out there on most of the major scandals in the Mahama administration but an election is a good measure of public sentiment. As we all know, it didn’t really go well for him. If he runs, unlike first time candidates, he will have a record people can slice and dice at free will. The despondency with his administration, the purported arrogance and the litany of corruption allegations would all be re-litigated should he run. This would certainly put the NDC on the defensive—exactly what they don’t need.
Mahama loyalists may be pining for a return of their hero but there are many who think he has had his time. Although relatively young, Mr. Mahama has had a long political career as an MP, Deputy Minister, Minister, Vice President and President. He has been in the public eye for long enough and some would hope the former president’s electoral loss would be the end of a long run while opening the door for fresh candidates.
The one-term curse
One term candidates, rightly or wrongly, face a certain stigma associated with loss, defeat and failure. Jimmy Carter, for instance, has known little peace especially in conservative circles since his failed second term presidential bid. If people deem Mahama as too closely tied to some of the biggest failures of his administration (or hold him personally responsible), it may signal a permanent end to his second term presidential ambitions.
Steep Party Disaffection
President Mahama may have his loyalists but there are many within the NDC who place their defeat squarely at his door as well his “appointees”. The anti-Mahama chorus is quite high; the wounds are still raw; and the rancor between him and party executives is quite deep. The feeling is that many grassroots members felt maligned within Mahama’s administration. Party structures were deemed to have been ignored in favor of centralization from the Flagstaff House and Mahama loyalists. It is not clear how he is going to defend his “lame horse” analogy or ride it if he gets the nod. It’s already clear he does not really have the support of the Rawlingses and some other leading members or old guards of the NDC at this point. In fact Rawlings once said of John Mahama: “I think he is an obstinate character…” Mahama would need some really potent olive branches if not well scented primroses if he is to reverse course.