The 2016 general elections was one which defied all odds. The power of incumbency which usually places incumbents ahead of the electoral race greatly diminished.
The incumbency factor essentially led to the downfall of many incumbents. Several notable incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) such as Hanna Tetteh, Alhaji Amadu Sorogho, Sena Okiti-Duah, Baba Jamal, Ibrahim Murtala Mohammed, Nii Amasah Namoale, George Aboagye, and Paul Evans Aidoo lost their seats.
What could have been the cause for such defeat? What were the underlying factors? Generally, incumbents have an advantage over their contenders during an election. This is due to several factors. First, the incumbent often has more recognition and visibility because of their previous work in the office they occupy. While incumbents hold office, they acquire a degree of power and influence that helps them in their electoral campaigns. Secondly, incumbents have more extensive opportunities, easier access to government resources and finance that can indirectly boost a campaign.
Incumbents more often receive free media attention and official budgets that helps to build familiarity and support among the electorate. Moreover, incumbents know the core of their work hence they have popular support. There is no denying the fact that experienced legislators are better equipped to provide benefits to the constituency. Typically, incumbents are more appealing to the electorate due to their qualifications, positions on issues and personal characteristics.
Since incumbents have won in the past they are likely to be more appealing to the electorate. Incumbency advantage did not play out well in this keenly contested election. While citizens registered their discontent with sitting government officials, others also hailed the performance of elected office holders. In the end the thumb decided and many incumbents were defeated.
The factors that led to the humiliating defeat are unknown, but when incumbency becomes a disadvantage it is only fair to find out why. Some of these reasons are outlined below. First, the loss may have been due to the pervasive voter discontent and apathy. Voters may have been disappointed and disillusioned with their political leaders hence the need for a change.
Secondly, widespread corruption which is mostly prevalent in developing countries like Ghana may have been a contributing factor. Moreover, the violent electioneering tactics usually characteristic of incumbent campaigns may have given the voter a sense of desperation on the part of incumbents. Perhaps, incumbents were less appealing than their challengers.
Well, this is the reason why in electing candidates to run for a party, it is essential that voter preferences be taken into consideration. That notwithstanding, incumbency disadvantage arises naturally if the candidate pool becomes more electorally appealing from one election to the next.
Indeed, incumbency disadvantage may emerge from the dynamic nature of competition in developing countries. Clearly in this election, incumbency lost its hold and voters identified with the resounding need for change.