Ostracised by the ruling party, a single lawmaker holds the balance of power in Ghana’s feuding parliament.
Shunned by Ghana’s ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the rundown to the December election, independent MP Andrew Asiamah Amoako has become the cornerstone of the NPP’s hold on power, after his decision to ‘to do business with the NPP in parliament’ gave the party an effective single seat majority.
With NPP and the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) each having 137 seats in parliament, the independent MP for Fomena has found himself de-facto kingmaker in the West African legislature.
Amoako, who represented the NPP in the 2016-2020 parliament, was kicked out of the ruling party by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo after he refused to step aside for another NPP candidate at the December election.
He went on to win the seat as an independent, but, controversially, has since signalled his intention to vote with the government in parliament. Ghana’s constitution frowns on so-called ‘carpet-crossing’ or switching parties once elected.
The Speaker, former NDC MP Alban Bagbin, told parliament that Amoako has formally written to say that he will do business with the NPP.
This brought to an end to weeks of debate between the members of the two caucuses as to which one can claim majority status.
The NDC flipped 32 seats from the ruling NPP in the December polls, giving the parties equal strengthen in the unicameral legislature.
This 50-50 split has already led to tensions on the floor, with the army forced to break up feuding lawmakers during the first vote of the new parliamentary session in January this year.
The absolute monopoly previously enjoyed by the ruling party had reduced parliament to little more than a rubber stamp for the executive.
Yet despite still technically being in a minority by one, the election of the opposition’s Bagbin as the Speaker on January 7, has risen hopes that the NDC will be able to hold the government to account, despite Amoaka’s stated NPP allegiance.
Ransford Gyamp, professor of political science at the University of Ghana, said the vetting of ministerial nominees by parliament last month showed that ‘the minority will exploit its numerical strength to ensure checks and balance in the house’.
At the time of press, the opposition had successfully held up the appointment of three ministerial nominees.
Speaking at the State of the Nation Address shortly before the new MPs took their seats, President Akufo-Addo acknowledged that his ruling party would have ‘no choice’ but to work with the opposition.
He added: ‘The next Parliament is not going to be anything like this one that ends today. I do not suggest that the House might not be as busy, but the sitting arrangements, the source and decibel levels of sound from the House would certainly be different.’
According to a senior research fellow at the Institute of Democratic Governance, Kwesi Jonah, the near-hung situation will slow down some government business, especially any bills embroiled in controversy. However, he anticipates a bi-partisan co-operation on most of the president’s agenda.
The Speaker has pledged to be a neutral referee and steer the affairs of the House to ensure there are no undue disruptions to government business.
Whether the new situation in parliament will lead to proper accountability to improve the lot of citizens or unduly disrupt government business is still to be seen.
But with Ghana’s eighth parliament already overshadowed by brawling in the chamber, and the balance of power resting on one formerly outcast MP, it’s unlikely to be dull.