The United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was established in 1947 with the declared aim of working for self-government at the earliest possible date. In 1949, as most of the UGCC leadership came to accept constitutional reform as an alternative to immediate self-government, the party secretary, Kwame Nkrumah, broke away and formed his own group, the Convention People's Party (CPP). In January 1950, Nkrumah announced a program of "positive action" for which he and the main leaders of the party were prosecuted and sentenced for sedition. At the first elections held in 1951 under a new constitution, the CPP obtained 71 of the 104 seats, and Nkrumah and his colleagues were released from prison to enter the new government. In May 1952, Kofi A. Busia, of the University College, founded the Ghana Congress Party (GCP), which continued the UGCC position of trying to form alliances with traditional chiefs. The GCP's leadership was a mixture of dissatisfied former CPP members and the professional-oriented leadership of the UGCC. In 1953, Nkrumah was elected life chairman and leader of the CPP.
In 1954, the assembly and cabinet became all African. A new party, the Ashanti-based National Liberation Movement (NLM), was formed to fight the general centralizing tendencies of the CPP and also to maintain the position of the traditional rulers; the NLM leadership, except for Busia, consisted of former CPP members. In the elections held in 1956, however, the CPP retained its predominant position, winning 72 of 108 seats in the Legislative Assembly.
One of the first acts of independent Ghana under Nkrumah was the Avoidance of Discrimination Act (1957), prohibiting sectional parties based on racial, regional, or religious differences. This led the opposition parties to amalgamate into the new United Party (UP), opposing the government's centralization policies and the declining power of the traditional rulers. The effectiveness of the opposition was reduced following the 1960 election by the withdrawal of official recognition of the opposition as such and by the detention of several leading opposition members under the Preventive Detention Act (1958). In September 1962, the National Assembly passed by an overwhelming majority a resolution calling for the creation of a one-party state; this was approved by referendum in January 1964.
After the military takeover of February 1966, the National Liberation Council outlawed the CPP along with all other political organizations. The ban on political activities was lifted on 1 May 1969, and several parties participated in the August 1969 balloting. The two major parties contesting the election were the Progress Party (PP), led by Busia, which was perceived as an Akan-dominated party composed of former members of the opposition UP; and the National Alliance of Liberals (NAL), a Ewe- and CPP-dominated group under the leadership of the former CPP minister Komla Gbedemah. The PP won 105 seats in the 140-member National Assembly; 29 seats were captured by the NAL, and 6 by the five minor parties. In October 1970, the NAL merged with two of the smaller groups to form the Justice Party.
All political parties in Ghana were again disbanded following the January 1972 military coup led by Col. Acheampong. When political activities resumed in 1979, five parties contested the elections. The People's National Party (PNP), which won 71 of 140 seats at stake, claimed to represent the Nkrumah heritage; the Popular Front Party (PFP) and the United National Convention (UNC), which traced their lineage back to Busia's Progress Party, won 43 and 13, respectively. The Action Congress Party (ACP), drawing primary support from the Fanti tribe, won 10 seats, while the leftist Social Democratic Front won 3. After the elections, the PNP formed an alliance with the UNC. In October 1980, however, the UNC left the governing coalition, and in June joined with three other parties to form the All People's Party. The coup of December 1981 brought yet another dissolution of Ghana's political party structure. Opposition to the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) was carried on by the Ghana Democratic Movement (organized in London in 1983) and a number of other groups.
With adoption of a new constitution in April 1992, the longstanding ban on political activity was lifted on 18 May 1992. Ghanaians prepared for the presidential and legislative elections to be held in November and December. The parties that emerged could be grouped into three clusters. The center-right group was the most cohesive and it consisted of followers of Kofi Busia. They formed the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and chose Adu Boaheu as their presidential candidate. The center-left group was Nkrumahists. Ideological and leadership differences kept them divided into 5 separate parties, of which the People's National Convention, a party led by ex-President Limann, was best organized. PNDC supporters comprised the third grouping. They favored continuity and, after forming the National Democratic Congress (NDC), were able to draft Rawlings as their candidate.
Rawlings eventually defeated Boaheu (58% to 30%) for the presidency. Opposition parties boycotted the December 1992 legislation elections, and the NDC carried 190 of the 200 seats. But the fear of one-party control prompted a split in the NDC. The official opposition in parliament was a faction of the ruling NDC.
Meanwhile, the NPP provided the most serious challenge to the NDC. It sees itself as defender of the new constitution. The NPP broke away from the opposition, the Inter-Party Coordinating Committee, by announcing in August 1993 its recognition of the 1992 election results, which the ICC had refused to accept.
On 7 December 1996, parliamentary elections were again held and while Rawlings's NDC maintained a majority, it fell from 190 seats in 1992 to 133 seats. The NPP, leading the opposition, won 60 seats. The People's Convention held 5 seats and the People's National Convention held 1. The elections were preceded by a massive voter registration drive and judged to be free and fair by international observers.
Leading up to the 2000 elections, the four main opposition parties formed the Joint Action Committee (JAC) to monitor the electoral register and campaign activities to ensure transparency. The elections for the National Assembly were held on 7 December 2000 and 3 January 2001. The NPP emerged the winner by a slim margin, taking 100 seats to the NDC's 92. The socialist People's National Convention took three seats, the socialist Convention People's Party took one seat, and independents won four seats. In the 7 and 28 December 2000 presidential elections, in addition to the NPP's candidate John Kufour and the NDC's candidate John Atta Mills, the following 5 parties put presidential candidates forward: the People's National Convention, the Convention People's Party, the National Reform Party, the Great Consolidated Popular Party, and the United Ghana Movement.