Swing voters in Ghana are making up their minds on the choice of a presidential candidate after witnessing the final debate last night ahead of next month's general elections. Both the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) are fiercely courting swing voters after the latest poll shows the two parties in a statistical dead heat. The latest poll released Wednesday shows both the ruling party and the main opposition NDC with 45 percent, with the rest of the opposition parties trailing the two leading parties. This comes after Ghana's Independent Electoral Commission declared Wednesday it was ready to conduct credible general elections that would meet international standards. Ben Ephson is a pollster and publisher of the independent Daily Dispatch newspaper. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that with less than 25 days to the election, all the parties are pushing hard to convince the undecided voters.
"Clearly, everybody is winding down. We have about 25 days to elections, and everybody is winding down and trying hard to catch the eye of floating voters who are effectively kingmakers… it is that close and everything is leading to a run off, sort of," Ephson said.
He said the latest poll shows the December 7 election could easily go into a run off, with no party winning the needed majority.
"Our constitution says that to become president on the first round of voting, you must get 50 percent, plus one of the valid votes cast. In the absence of that, the two top candidates would go for a round in three weeks. From December 7, that's December 28. The polls we have done clearly indicate it is going to be difficult for the two big parties, the NDC and the NPP, to actually have that margin, and it is fiercely looking like the runoff is going spoil the Christmas because it is going to be on December 28," he said.
Ephson said the main opposition party is using similar arguments employed by the ruling NPP party against the NDC in the 2000 general election.
"Clearly, they (NPP) realize that yes, they've done well for example in infrastructure and so on, but the Ghanaian voters are just remembering the questions they raised in 1999-2000. Is it Abena we are going to chop? (Will people be literally eating the roads?) That was the refrain or the question they asked the NDC when the NDC was in power," Ephson pointed out.
He said the ruling NPP party would be strongly disadvantaged if the election goes to a runoff.
"I suspect that there is a kind of a wind of change blowing. And if it gets to a runoff, and you know when an incumbent gets to a runoff, their chances of winning the runoff are really slim," he said.
Ephson disagreed with speculation suggesting that the opposition parties would be forming a coalition ahead of the general election.
"Coming together in a coalition before December 7 is totally out of the question. Like in 2000, what we suspect when you have a runoff, you have the other opposition parties throwing their weight behind whoever is in the runoff with the NPP. And it looks like it is going to be the NDC and the NCP (National Convention Party) in the runoff as in 2000, eight years ago," Ephson noted.
He said Ghanaians welcomed the final debate better than the first one, claiming it was issue-based and informative.
"The debate was held on Wednesday night in Ghana and this was much better. Yes, the first one was a bit lackluster, but this one, the four presidential candidates were allowed a bit of firing across each other, the questions were tighter, the themes diverse, and it was generally a much better show than in Accra," he said.
Meanwhile various international and local observers are already in the country to monitor the December 7 election.