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Why I will never again run for election

Witnessing “the people’s choice” at a young age taught our writer a thing or two about politics – from intentions to inducements

In my third term of primary school at the Good Shepherd Preparatory School, Gemma the introvert decided to stand for election to the position of girls’ prefect.

The prefects entered Class 5A and asked if any of us would want to run for the student leadership. The younger, naive me raised my hand – without stopping to think about it – and my name was added to the list.

I remember telling my mother about my decision to stand for election.

I know now she really didn’t expect me to win. How could a shy girl like me ever win the position of girls’ prefect of the great Good Shepherd in the Ashanti Region, when I couldn’t even boast ten close friends who could run my campaign team?

The pursuit of power

Many of our classmates described me as the unfriendly one: she never smiled, never went around with a gang of friends. But, in fact, stretching my facial muscles and flashing my teeth was not the problem: just that I was too uptight even to make friends.

That was one problem my mother had with me. But maybe I was fooled into thinking that my academic prowess was enough to convince the entire school that I was the best fit for the position.

After my name was added to the list, the candidates took turns to meet the teachers in charge of vetting. I passed this stage, and soon I discovered that I needed to prepare my manifesto, to be presented to the school in the assembly hall the following day.

The closing bell rang and I walked to a crèche not far away from my school to pick up my younger brother. A girl called Perpetual, the typical kind of schoolkid voter, threatened not to vote for me if I didn’t buy her “poki” (sweets). Being naive about politics as the pursuit of power, I told her not to vote for me. After all, I said, her one vote would add nothing to my chances. How dumb was I to have said that to a voter?

I picked up my younger brother from school and soon I was home and could start drafting my manifesto. On my bed, I tried to jot down a few words. Even lying around on the bed showed how unprepared I was to put in the hard work. But I managed to summon a few words which I thought would be strong enough to convince my fellow pupils to vote for me.

Malingerer with manifesto

As my fellow candidates mounted the stage to present their manifestos to the school, I knew I had made a bad decision to run. The other candidates made promises which we all knew were not going to be implemented. If you think about it, what decisions can an 11-year-old make, as a pupil of an educational institution?

But, intimidated by their words, I mounted the podium and shivered from start to finish, like one with fever. My voice was shaking and I had little control over my presentation.

Simply put, it was a mess. After reading my manifesto, I knew without a doubt that it would take a miracle to win that election. I mean, I was not telling people to vote for me, neither was I tolerating certain schoolmates who, because they had said they would support me to stand for a position, now wanted to misbehave. So I pretty well knew that “me campaign no atɔ nsuo mo”: to wit, my campaign was shambolic.

After that tragic morning, the teachers came round and asked once again which positions we wanted to vie for. Looking back now, I think the move smacks of an incompetent election committee, but at that time it looked simply like the heavens were giving me another opportunity to redeem my image.

Why do I say so? There were other positions up for grabs. Besides the girls’ prefect portfolio, which was highly competitive, there were prefects’ positions for the compound, sports and entertainment, which were not subject to such fierce competition.

Indeed, some of the girls I was standing against for girls’ prefect decided to switch to compound prefect and other roles. However, I didn’t and I don’t remember where I gathered the confidence to keep my name on the girls’ prefect sheet after the humiliating manifesto presentation in the afternoon.

Try again. Try harder

Then came the day of the election. The method of voting was very simple: write the name of your preferred candidate on a sheet of paper and put it in a box. Soon the process was over and the ballots were counted. An assembly was called and the result announced.

With fewer than 30 votes cast in my name, out of the 300-plus students, it was evident that I was the CPP of my time. I’d lost the first election I had stood for, and seeing the winners being powdered and cheered on by an excited crowd even made me miserable. I rushed home at the close of day.

My mother saw me crying and asked: “Why? What’s wrong?” I told her I had lost the election. With little sympathy, she said, ‘Is that why you are crying? Do you know how many times President Kufuor lost elections before he became the president of this country? Cheer up. Don’t cry. Next time, try harder.”

To me, the best example today is Nana Akufo-Addo, who lost two general elections before becoming president. My mother was trying to instill the spirit of perseverance in me by comparing President Kufuor’s years of losing to my defeat. But it did not work: it merely deterred me from ever standing again for election.

The positions I have held throughout my career have been based on appointment. To put myself up for assessment by voters is something I don’t see myself doing, even though that first election was ages ago and my approach to life has changed drastically.

If I ever decide to run for another position, I will make sure I am mentally prepared for defeat, which is possible every time you put yourself up for judgement by the public. And perhaps, this time, I will succumb a little to voters’ threats, just so I can finally become my mother’s “President Kufuor”.

Gemma Appiah

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