Now in the third decade of its fourth republic since independence, Ghana has enjoyed a protracted period of civilian rule in recent times, with democratic governance firmly established by a series of largely peaceful elections. As a presidential and unitary republic, with a unicameral legislature and independent judiciary, Ghana also recognises the importance of its regions, each of which has its own assemblies and local government units.

The last general election was held in December 2016, and the next is scheduled for 2020 – making 2019 a year likely to see significant moves from parties and candidates alike in shaping public opinion for the upcoming ballots.


The fourth republic came into existence in January 1993, using the 1992 constitution as its basis. This was built on the experiences of the previous periods of military rule, as well as the first, second and third republics.

The first, which lasted from 1960 to 1966, ended the immediate post-colonial period, when the country still had Queen Elizabeth II of Britain acting as its head of state. Guided by Kwame Nkrumah as president and his Convention People’s Party, the leadership was overthrown in a military coup led by Lieutenant General Jospeh Arthur Ankrah of the National Liberation Council.

The second republic was born with a return to civilian rule in 1969. This established a prime ministerial system with a ceremonial president. These positions were occupied by Kofi Abrefa Busia and Edward Akufo-Addo, respectively, after elections that year. Another military coup in 1972, however, ended this brief republic period, and Colonel Ignatius Koto Acheampong took power.

The third republic then came into being seven years later, with elections and a new constitution in 1979. Elections were won by Hilla Limann and his People’s National Party, yet this period of civilian rule proved even less durable than the last, with a coup in December 1981 seeing Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings of the Provisional National Defence Council step in. He stayed in control for more than a decade, eventually allowing a consultative assembly to draw up a new constitution and holding a referendum in 1992 on whether or not to adopt it. Some 92.59% voted in favour to adopt, with May 1992 seeing an end to the ban on multi-party politics and Rawlings’ own ruling Provisional National Defence Council forming the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to contest future elections.

Elections were held in late 1992, with the opposition parties largely boycotting the vote. Rawlings became president and the NDC secured all but 17 posts in the 200-seat Parliament. It was not until the 1996 elections that the opposition participated, although Rawlings was then re-elected in the first peacefully conducted full ballot under the new constitution. Since then Ghana has held presidential and parliamentary elections every four years in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 – all conducted under the same constitutional arrangements, which owe much to the US presidential model, although with some important distinctions.


The president of Ghana is both head of state and head of government, as well as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He or she chooses a vice-presidential candidate to run on a joint ticket, and the winners are elected directly by universal suffrage to a four-year term. There is also a two-term limit for presidents. A run-off second round of voting is allowed if no candidate gains more than 50% of the ballot in the first round. The voting age for all elections is 18 years.

Once in office, the president appoints the Council of Ministers, or Cabinet. The president also appoints the members of a number of advisory bodies, such as the National Security Council. In addition, he is advised by the House of Chiefs – representing tribal chieftains – and the Council of State, made up of 25 prominent citizens. Among these are members from each of the 10 regions of the country, elected indirectly by electoral colleges formed in each region.

The current president is Nana Akufo-Addo, son of Edward Akufo-Addo, who was the ceremonial president of the second republic. The vice-president is Mahamudu Bawumia, a former deputy governor of the Bank of Ghana, the central bank.

The president may issue executive orders, sign treaties, grant pardons, declare war or a state of emergency, and hold referenda on important issues. He or she has wide-ranging powers of appointment, including for the Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court, after consultation with the Cabinet and the approval of Parliament. This legislature also has the power to remove the president after constitutional due process, with a two-thirds majority vote. The president must be Ghanaian by birth, and have reached at least 40 years of age.

The president’s residence and office is called Jubilee House – formerly the Flagstaff House – and is situated in the capital, Accra. Previously, the site hosted the administrative activities of the British Gold Coast government.


The Parliament of Ghana is a unicameral assembly consisting of 275 members and the speaker. Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected by universal suffrage in single-member constituencies according to a first-past-the-post system. MP terms are for four years, with no limit on the number of terms. The speaker, currently Aaron Mike Oquaye, is appointed by the majority party in Parliament, in consultation with other parties, and cannot themselves be an MP.

The Parliament has the power to make laws and scrutinise the performance of the president and the Cabinet. The body can also shape public finances via debate on the government budget, although, according to Article 108 of the constitution, it may not introduce financial legislation of its own.

Parliament also examines government appointments and gives or withholds its consent for a range of senior positions in the executive, judiciary and civil service branches. Much of this work of scrutinisation is done in committee, with Parliament home to a variety of such groups, reviewing everything from foreign policy to judicial appointments. Composition of committees is arranged by the party whips, with an eye to them reflecting the overall balance of power in Parliament itself.


The country’s law is largely based on English common law, with Ghanaian customary law tending to govern matters relating to personal relationships and contracts. The judicial hierarchy is closely modelled on the British example, too. The highest court is the Supreme Court of Ghana, under which is the Court of Appeal, then the High Courts of Justice and finally 10 regional tribunals. The lower system includes circuit courts, magistrates’ courts and specialised bodies, such as juvenile courts for offenders under 17 years of age.

There is also a system of traditional courts, which deal only with matters related to chieftaincy. These courts may also make a final appeal to the Supreme Court. The system of tribal chiefs is guaranteed under the constitution, with the House of Chiefs acting as an advisory body on all matters of customary law and chieftaincy.

The Supreme Court consists of 15 judges and the Chief Justice, who is the head of the court and the Ghanaian judiciary overall. In 2016 the judges numbered 14, but then three retired in June and July 2018. President Akufo-Addo appointed four new judges in July 2018, raising the total number of justices to 15. All Supreme Court members are appointed by the president after consultation with the Judicial Council and the granting of parliamentary approval. The new judges consist of two appellate justices, one professor of law and one private legal practitioner who was a former president of the Ghana Bar Association. The current Chief Justice is Sophia Akuffo. She is the second woman to hold the post, after Georgina Wood, her predecessor.

Regional & Local Government

Ghana divides into 10 regions, with Ashanti the largest by population and the Northern Region the largest by surface area. These regions are important politically, as they are enshrined in a constitution that sought to move away from the highly centralised states characteristic of previous military regimes.

Each region has its own minister, appointed by the president, who sits on the Council of Ministers. An electoral college in each region, made up of two nominated councillors from that region, elects a representative to the Council of State, one of the main advisory bodies to the president.

Under the constitution, at least 10% of total government revenue must go to the regions via the District Assemblies Common Fund. This is paid out on a quarterly basis for development activities, based on a calculation that changes annually depending on factors such as the population, needs, equalisation, responsiveness and service pressure in the districts. As the concept of decentralisation is outlined in the constitution, further fiscal and administrative responsibilities are due to be carried out by the lower levels of government in the future.

The highest political body within the regions are the assemblies. Of these, there are three types – metropolitan (for urban areas with populations over 250,000), municipal (for single towns with populations of 95,000 or more) and district (for a wider area, combining towns and villages). All assemblies have the same structure, with 70% of their members elected directly, while 30% are appointed by the president. MPs from the region are also ex-officio members of the relevant assembly. A District Chief Executive leads the assembly, along with the guidance of an executive committee.

Each regional government sits at the top of a hierarchy that descends through town, area, zonal and unit committees, with the country currently possessing around 16,000 unit committees, the lowest level of the political structure. These lower ranks also consist of a combination of elected and appointed members, yet they do not hold any legislative powers; rather they act as implementation agencies for regional policies.

Recent Elections

The most recent general elections were held on December 7, 2016, with both the presidency and the Parliament open for voting. As with other elections, these were supervised and administered by the Electoral Commission of Ghana.

In the presidential race, there were seven candidates in the first round, with the bulk of the votes going to candidates of the country’s two main political parties – the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the NDC. Voter turnout was 69.25%.

The NPP candidate, current President Akufo-Addo, managed to win 53.72% of the vote, meaning that a second round was unnecessary. The defeated NDC candidate, incumbent John Dramani Mahama, gained 44.53% of the vote and peacefully conceded defeat the day the official results were declared, ending his presidency in January 2017.

In the parliamentary elections, 1144 candidates ran for the 275 seats, with the NPP and NDC once again dominating. The NPP secured 52.5% of the national vote to the NDC’s 42.34%, with nine other parties and a number of independents failing to win seats, as their votes were generally less than 1% of the total. The Progressive People’s Party was the only exception to this, securing 1.73% of the vote, but also failing to capture any seats – the tendency of the first-past-the-post system to create twoparty parliaments being amply demonstrated. Thus the NPP secured 171 seats and the NDC the other 104. Some 12% of parliamentary seats were won by women in the 2016 elections.

That year’s voting showed some divergences among the regions. Volta, for example, remained fiercely loyal to the NDC, with some 80.97% voting for Mahama, while Ashanti voted 75.98% for Akufo-Addo. The capital region – Greater Accra, where Akufo-Addo is from – was more balanced, with 52.42% voting for the NPP candidate. Broadly speaking, the north and east of the country went to the NDC – Mahama is from Bole in the Northern Region – while the south and west was for the NPP.

The next elections are due in 2020, with the likelihood that they will once again be a close contest between the NPP and NDC. In April 2018 Mahama declared that he would be a candidate once again, with Akufo-Addo also highly expected to run.

Winning Platform

The 2016 elections saw Akufo-Addo speak to voter dissatisfaction with the economy, which at the time was suffering from the protracted downturn in global prices of Ghana’s chief commodity exports. The election was thus fought on an issue affecting all Ghanaians, rather than on sectarian grounds, while the exemplary behaviour of both presidential candidates and their supporters in the transfer of power also indicated the growing strength of democratic governance in the country. The other primary issue that voters rallied behind was that of corruption, with Akufo-Addo promising a tough approach to bribery and other illegal practices. Once in office, the new president established a special prosecutor post for pursuing corruption cases, with an anti-graft office headed by Attorney General Martin Amidu. A number of high-profile cases have followed, including the prosecutions of ex-ministers, high court judges, and the heads of national funds and regulatory bodies. These steps have been greeted with approval by many ordinary Ghanaians eager for a change.


At the same time, the government has faced some criticism for the large size of its administration: numbering around 110 ministers and deputies, it is the largest in the country’s history. For many, this contrasts with the government’s other efforts to cut costs and boost efficiency. Examples of this have included introducing a compulsory tax ID number for individuals and businesses, using digital addresses and working to reform the pressured national energy grid. The year ahead is likely to see additional streamlining efforts within the government, but the test of whether such gains can be made with a leaner staff will only come after the country has its say on the upcoming ballot in 2020.