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Race for Ghana's Next  President Tightens


Voters in Ghana go to the polls Sunday to elect a new government. Two veteran politicians are in a tight race for the presidency. But analysts see the elections as another step in the consolidation of multi-party democracy in the West African nation.

Ghana's 12 million registered voters are to choose a new president Sunday as current President John Kuffuor prepares to step down after eight years in power.

More than one dozen political parties are competing in the presidential and parliamentary polls. Candidates of the two main parties are in a close race for the top political job: Nana Akufo-Addo of the president's New Patriotic Party and John Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress founded by former president Jerry Rawlings.

An analyst with Accra's Center for Democratic Development, Emmanuel Gymah-Boadi, said these elections have been more competitive than expected.

"Relative to previous election campaigns, this one has been relatively issued-based. The main candidates have addressed themselves to issues. The candidates themselves have generally refrained from personal attacks and personalizing the campaign," he said.

But the head of the Africa Program at London's Chatham House, Alex Vines, disagreed, saying personalities have dominated the contest.

"It's classic Ghanaian politics. Both candidates are very passionate about what they're doing and there has been a great deal of mud slinging between both of them. But there's everything to gain from this election. It's going to be close," he said.

Opposition parties have campaigned on a platform of change. But Gymah-Boadi said most Ghanaians are looking for continuity.

"I think they are only talking of change in terms of personalities, in terms of faces. I don't think any of them is talking about change in policies," he said.

Vines agreed, saying Ghana will not be very different under the presidency of either of the two front-runners.

"They both talk about clamping down on corruption. They both talk about good governance. The Ghanaian economy has been doing pretty well. It has been impacted by the global downturn and credit crunch. But also off-setting this is that Ghana next year will become a more significant oil producer," said Vines.

The next government is expected to enjoy new revenues when recently discovered off-shore oil fields begin producing an estimated 150,000 barrels per day.

Vines said there also will be some new faces in government at the parliamentary level because some sitting parliament members are retiring and others are expected to be voted out of office.

"One of the good things about Ghana is that it's a constituency-based system so there is some local-level accountability required by the politicians who become parliamentarians and have to be brought to account by their constituents, he said.

Analysts noted that there have been allegations of fraud especially in the voter registration process. But Gymah-Boadi said nevertheless Ghanaian politics continue to mature.

"There is a certain degree of confidence that is being exuded by the media, by civil society and by citizens at large that they can handle this," he said.

Analysts said as a result the performance of the electoral commission and close vigilance by the media and civic society will be vital to ensure a free and fair vote.

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