In December 2020 Ghanaians went to the polls to elect a president and members of Parliament. The incumbent head of state and leader of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), President Nana AkufoAddo, was re-elected in the first round of voting over former President John Dramani Mahama, the candidate for the main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC). This marked the third time that the two men have faced each other for political office, with then-Vice President Mahama defeating Akufo-Addo in 2012, and Akufo-Addo defeating Mahama in 2016.

The 2020 election marked the seventh general election since the return to full democracy in 1996, and was regarded as a free and fair event by international and local observers, held with minimal security. As a unitary parliamentary republic with a unicameral legislature and independent judiciary, Ghana’s constitutional order recognises the importance of its regions, each of which have their own assemblies and local government units.


The current constitution has significantly evolved since the days of the Independence Constitution of 1957, which was amended in 1960 to replace the Queen of Britain as the country’s figurehead and introduce a presidential system. A constitutional amendment in 1964 turned the country into a one-party state. After years of alternating military regimes and republican periods, Jerry John Rawlings’ coup d’état of 1981 symbolised the most recent period of military rule; however, a constitutional reform process began in the early 1990s and a constitution drafted by a consultative assembly was approved by a popular referendum in 1992.

The new constitution marked the beginning of a democratisation phase, even if the 1992 election was considered unfair by most observers and boycotted by the opposition. However, the constitutional order it helped bring about not only enabled the freer 1996 elections in which Rawlings was re-elected, but also the watershed general election in 2000 that allowed the opposition NPP to assume power. All of the elections since the reform have been overseen by that constitutional regime, called the Constitution of the Fourth Republic, which came into force on January 7, 1993. It ensures the unitary nature of the state while leaving room for decentralisation, greater freedoms and an emphasis on human rights, alongside a US-inspired presidential system.

Executive Branch

According to the constitution, the president serves a four-year term and may sit for two terms over the course of their political career. As head of state and head of government, the president must uphold the constitution, implement laws passed by the Parliament and ensure the functioning of public services. They also serve as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Any citizen of Ghana above 18 years of age is entitled to vote in elections. In a presidential election a run-off vote can be avoided if a candidate achieves more than 50% of the vote in the first round, which occurred with the incumbent president’s re-election in 2020. The president can declare a state of emergency and sign executive orders – they may, however, be removed by a supermajority vote in the legislature and with due constitutional process.

With prior consultation with the Cabinet, the president is vested with the power to appoint senior public officials such as members of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice, the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet) and members of advisory bodies like the National Security Council. The president’s authority extends to initiating referendums and signing treaties. Matters of chieftaincy are communicated to the president by the House of Chiefs, while a Council of State – composed of prominent citizens and elected representatives from each of the 16 regions of Ghana – counsels the president on national issues and his or her performance of their functions. The seat of government and the president’s residence was moved to Jubilee House in Accra in 2005, with the previous residence being Osu castle, a Danish-Norwegian fort.

Legislative Branch

The Parliament is a unicameral assembly, and its mandate includes lawmaking, representation, deliberation and oversight, ranging from the use of public funds to the conduct of the president and the Cabinet. Members of Parliament represent the 275 single-seat constituencies in Ghana and are elected via the first-past-the-post system for an uncapped number of four-year terms. Parliamentary consent is required for appointments of senior executive, judicial or civil service positions.

Control over public funds is vested in the Parliament by Chapter 13 of the 1992 Constitution. Without its approval, no tax can be implemented. With the exception of funds that the constitution directly charges on the Consolidated Fund, no funds may be transferred without the consent of the Parliament. By taking appropriate action in response to the auditor-general’s reports, the Parliament is also obligated to oversee the use of public funds and make sure that the funds it has authorised are being used for the intended purposes. Apart from these, the financial powers of the Parliament include approving loans; keeping an eye on the country’s foreign exchange earnings, payments and transfers; approving tax waivers, exemptions and variations; and designating an auditor to audit and report on the accounts of the auditor-general’s office.

Additionally, the Parliament monitors the performance of the executive branch, which oversees the public services, to make sure that public policy is implemented in a way that advances the government’s approved developmental agenda and that expenditures are incurred in compliance with parliamentary authorisations. The Parliament carries out this role by scrutinising executive actions and policy measures through a variety of channels, including committees, motions, questions to ministers and minister censorship, among others.

As of November 2023 there have been eight parliaments in the Fourth Republic. The current speaker, Alban Bagbin of the opposition NDC party, was chosen by lawmakers in 2021. As per the constitution, the speaker presides over all sessions of Parliament but is not permitted to cast a ballot. Committees of Parliament include finance, public accounts, government assurance, subsidiary legislation, standing orders, privileges and special budget, as well as others that deliberate on specific issues referred to them before a final decision is made through debates and votes on the floor of the Parliament.

Judicial Branch

The independence of the judiciary is enshrined in Article 127 of the constitution. Ghana’s uncodified customary law, which safeguards issues of custom, chieftaincy, inheritance, family law and social relations is also allowed by the constitution’s provisions. The hierarchy of courts derives largely from British judicial forms. The courts have jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in Ghana. As of November 2023 there were 12 justices of the Supreme Court. The court has exclusive original jurisdiction in all matters relating to the enforcement or interpretation of the 1992 Constitution and is presided over by the chief justice, currently Gertrude Torkornoo. In the absence of the chief justice, the most senior of the justices of the Supreme Court shall preside. In addition to serving as the head of Ghana’s judiciary, the chief justice can also participate in the court proceedings of the Court of Appeals, the High Court and 16 regional tribunals. The president can appoint Supreme Court justices after consultation with the Judicial Council and the approval of the Parliament. The lower court system consists of circuit courts, district courts and juvenile courts, among others. The Superior Courts of Judicature supervise the lower courts.

Regional & Local Government

Metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) are responsible for carrying out local government functions. The 1993 constitution established the institutions and tenets of local government, breaking with the centralised governance tradition that had characterised Ghana during both the colonial and post-independence eras.

Voters decisively approved a 2018 referendum to increase the country’s number of regions from 10 to 16, and the change was quickly put into effect. The expansion represented President Akufo-Addo’s fulfilment of a pledge made during the 2016 campaign. With the approval of the Parliament, the president appoints 16 regional ministers, and each region’s electoral college selects the regional representatives to the Council of State.

As of 2023 there were 261 MMDAs in Ghana. District assemblies are in charge of certain geographic areas and any settlements within them, while metropolitan assemblies are in charge of metropolitan areas with a population of at least 250,000. Municipal assemblies are in charge of towns. Local elections are held every four years and contribute 70% of the assemblies’ members, while the appointment of the remaining 30% is the prerogative of the president. District chief executives are responsible for the administration of local authority in the country. The lowest local government sub-structures are unit committees, which number approximately 16,000 across the country. These committees are delegated tasks by the assemblies, and have both elected and appointed members.

Fiscal decentralisation is enshrined in the constitution, leading to upward adjustments of the District Assemblies Common Fund over the years that released a higher share of tax revenue to district assemblies. National government transfers to metropolitan and municipal assemblies have also been on the rise in recent years.

2020 Elections

In the most recent general elections, which took place on December 7, 2020, the incumbent President Akufo-Addo and running mate Mahamudu Bawumia of the NPP were re-elected with 51.3% of the vote. The president winning a second term represented a defeat for his main opponent, former President John Dramani Mahama of the NDC, and his running mate, Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang, who received 47.4% of the vote. The election saw a healthy turnout of almost 80%.

Unlike in the 2016 elections, Mahama initially disputed the election results, but he eventually conceded when the incumbent’s re-election was confirmed by the Supreme Court. Despite the ongoing constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic and a brief eruption of post-election violence, high voter turnout and a largely peaceful process underscored the persistence of Ghana’s democratic institutions.

Nevertheless, the election resulted in the incumbent NPP losing its majority in Parliament and winning the same number of seats as the NDC. As a result, there is a hung Parliament, with one independent candidate determining who wins in party-line votes. There were disagreements over the 2022 budget in late 2021 as a result of a near-equal balance in the Parliament. The hung Parliament remained in place in November 2023 after a by-election for the country’s Assin North seat in July of that year saw a win by the opposition NDC candidate.

The 2020 election’s regional vote distribution mirrored past results: the Volta Region supported Mahama with 84.4% of the vote, a higher percentage than the 81% in the previous election. Once more, the Ashanti Region supported Akufo-Addo with 71.6%, compared to 76% in 2016. With 51% of the vote going for the NDC and 48.1% for the NPP, Mahama was the preferred candidate in the capital region by a narrow margin. Voting trends were similar to those of the 2016 election, with President Akufo-Addo winning most of the southern regions and the opposition concentrated in the northern and western parts of the country.

Voter Sentiment

The negative impact of the pandemic on the economy and divisions in the NPP party presented key challenges for incumbent Akufo-Addo in the 2020 general elections. The election was primarily based on the popularity and campaign promises of the two candidates, with few significant ideological differences between them.

A key element of President Akufo-Addo’s campaign was Agenda 111, which promised the construction of 101 new district hospitals, seven regional hospitals, two specialised hospitals and one hospital renovation, in an effort to address the shortage of such health facilities across the country.

Voters’ concerns ranged from corruption to economic recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic, according to polls conducted in 2020. While roughly one-third of voters rated the state of affairs as “fairly good” or “very good” in surveys – a 35% decline from the 2017 benchmark – Ghanaians’ disapproval of economic indicators has been growing. Lower assessments of living conditions largely shaped negative assessments of the economy; consequently, for many voters, employment, infrastructure, education and health care were top concerns. However, voter satisfaction with the government’s handling of the pandemic likely helped President Akufo-Addo win re-election.

The next round of general presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for December 2024, which will see a contest between the NDC’s candidate, Mahama and the NPP’s Bawumia. In November 2023 the latter was chosen as the NPP leader by 61.4% of delegate votes. Factors that are likely to influence the outcome of the 2024 elections in Ghana include economic conditions, unemployment, education, corruption and infrastructure, as well as the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.