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Analyst: Ghana’s Democracy Unaffected by President’s Death

John Evans Atta Mills, the President of Ghana, visits the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Dec. 15, 2011, and talks with specialist Jennifer Klesaris.
John Evans Atta Mills, the President of Ghana, visits the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Dec. 15, 2011, and talks with specialist Jennifer Klesaris.
Political analyst Emmanuel Akwetey said Ghanaian democracy and institutions will not be affected by the sudden death Tuesday of President John Atta Mills.

Akwetey, executive director of the Institute for Democratic Governance said Ghanaians have learned to be guided by their constitution since the days of military coups.

Ghanaian officials said Mills died a "sudden and untimely death” at a military hospital in the capital, Accra.” He was 68 years old.

The nature of the late president’s illness was not immediately announced. But Akwetey said Mills’s ill health had been known for some time.

“I don’t know the details of his sickness. However, his health has been an issue during the campaign since 2008 within his party and, thereafter, in the battle with the major opposition parties for power. They raised it that he wasn’t feeling well. And so, issues about health have been in the public domain for quite some time,” he said.

Akwetey said, although the sudden death marks the first time that a sitting Ghanaian president has died in office, the country’s constitution is specific about the transition of power.

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“Article 66 says, if the president resigns, or is removed, or died, the vice president should be sworn in immediately. That has been complied with to the letter. He [Vice President Mahama] has been sworn in and he has to serve the remaining term of the president, who is now out of office,” Akwetey said.

Unlike Ethiopia, where authorities there have reportedly blocked the publication of a prominent independent newspaper featuring reports on the health of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Akwetey said Ghana is becoming a more open society.

“The nature of politics and public debates makes it difficult to keep anything secret. Now, probably the background to that is our own history. You know, we used to be a politically unstable country with military interventions, coup d’états and so on. But, we have come to understand that the rule of law means we must respect the constitution, and not only respect the constitution, when in doubt go straight to the Supreme Court,” he said.

Ghana is scheduled to hold a presidential election in December. Akwetey said he suspects the ruling National Democratic Congress (NPP) will name Mahama to stand in those elections.

“He campaigned with the late Professor Atta Mills in the primaries, and so they are likely to consider him. It’s too short a time,” Akwetey said.

He said the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) has suspended its campaign for the time being in honor of the late president.

But, Akwetey said he does not think Ghana’s elections commission would postpone the election.

U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to the late President Mills praising his efforts to improve human rights and the lives of his people.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said "President Mills will be remembered for his statesmanship and years of dedicated service to his country.