So why did the Convention People’s Party (C.P.P.) dominate Ghanaian politics from 1951 to 1966?
In this brief tutorial, we are going to highlight the reasons why the Convention People’s Party (C.P.P.) won the 1951 elections and subsequent ones in Ghana.
By the end of 1950, the Convention People’s Party had already won several bye-elections in the Gold Coast. For instance, it swept all the 7 seats in the Accra Municipal Council elections of April 1950 and all the seats in the Kumasi Town Council elections of November 1950.
So when Governor Charles Noble Arden-Clarke allowed Dr Kwame Nkrumah, who was then serving a prison sentence for organizing Positive Action in 1950, to stand for elections slated for February 1951, Nkrumah’s unassailable popularity again made the C.P.P. sweep the polls. In fact, the Convention People’s Party won 34 out of the 38 popularly elected seats. Nkrumah was therefore released from prison to form a C.P.P. government under his leadership as Leader of Government Business. This position was re-designated a year later (1952) as Prime Minister.
Again, in the 15th June 1954 general elections, the Convention People’s Party won 72 out of the 104 seats.
Finally, in the 17th July 1956 independence general elections mainly contested by the Convention People’s Party, led by Kwame Nkrumah, and the National Liberation Movement (N.L.M), led by Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia, the C.P.P. won a clear majority of 71 seats out of the 104 seats in the National Assembly.
This clear dominance of the Convention People’s Party and its leader, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, in Ghanaian politics persisted until the C.P.P. administration was overthrown in a coup led by Gen. E. A. Kotoka on 24th February 1966.
Reasons for the dominance of the Convention People’s Party
The following were the factors responsible for the dominance of the Convention People’s Party in Ghanaian politics from 1951 to 1966.
1. One important factor had to do with the charisma or captivating personality coupled with the dynamic leadership style of its leader, Dr Kwame Nkrumah.
Nkrumah had a charming and magnetic personality coupled with his gift of oratory. His ability to relate easily with the ordinary people won him the love and admiration of the masses. To Nkrumah and his associates in the C.P.P., the achievements of the nationalist struggle should not be measured in terms of constitutional reforms but by the extent to which its leaders appeared to identify with the demands and aspirations of the people.
2. Another factor was the effective organizational role played by political strategists within the party such as Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, Kojo Botsio and Krobo Edusei. For the first time in Ghana, a political party had full-time salaried workers whose responsibilities included grassroots political organization, mass education and propaganda. The Accra Evening News, the party’s propaganda machine kept the demands of the people on the forefront.
3. The C.P.P. also organized a grassroots political movement called the Committee on Youth Organization (C.Y.O.). This organization consisted of young radical nationalists who offered their support to the party.
4. The imprisonment of its leaders after Positive Action endeared the Convention People’s Party to the hearts of many Ghanaians. They were regarded as heroes who were prepared to sacrifice themselves for the freedom of the common man and failure to vote for them would amount to a show of ingratitude and a betrayal of trust.
5. Involvement of many identifiable groups such as farmers’ organizations and women’s groups which became affiliated to the party also played a major role. These groups campaigned vigorously for the party to ensure its victory.
6. The financial base of the Convention People’s Party was strong. Party members were registered and paid monthly dues (five shillings for men and three shillings for women). There were also contributions at party rallies.
7. The party was a mass party which involved all segments of the society including the rural poor and the urban unemployed. A leading member of the United Gold Coast Convention (U.G.C.C.) once described the masses as “Verandah Boys”. This became one of the attractions that made the underprivileged to join and support the C.P.P.
8. The manifesto and development agenda of the party appealed to ordinary Ghanaian voters who were in the majority. The other opposition parties could not present viable alternative programmes. They were parties whose main source of strength and support came from specific ethnic groups. Their agenda to promote ethnic and regional interests did not find favour with the majority of Ghanaian voters.
9. The advantage of incumbency was also a factor.
First, as the ruling party from 1951, the C.P.P. had easy access to funds to run an effective campaign.
Also, from 1951, when independence was yet to be achieved, the people considered all opposition to the ruling C.P.P. as being an unholy alliance with the colonial regime which they believed was doing everything possible to delay independence.
A rumour which was spread by the propaganda machine of the Convention People’s Party to the effect that the leaders of the opposition had accepted a huge bribe from the British government in order to abandon the struggle for independence caused great damage to the opposition from which they would not recover for a long time to come.
10. Attractive slogans and campaign messages also played a significant role in the repeated electoral successes of the party. Examples were “self-government now”, “freedom” and “Kwame Nkrumah Show Boy” These were used to either project the party’s image or ridicule its opponents.
11. There was a reduction in the voting age from 25 years as recommended by the Coussey Committee to 21 years on the motion of Kwesi Plange the youngest member of the Legislative Assembly at the time. This led to the enfranchisement of a lot of the youthful supporters of the C.P.P. to vote massively for the party.
12. The creation of a one-party state made the Convention People’s Party dominant. In 1964 the electorate approved an amendment to the constitution in a referendum which made Ghana a de jure one-party state. The C.P.P. became the only political party allowed by law to operate in the country. All minority parties were banned and driven underground.
The above were the major factors that contributed to the Convention People’s Party’s dominance of the Ghanaian political landscape from 1951 till 1966.