Ghana's main opposition National Democratic Congress (N.D.C) late Thursday elected a former vice president and two times a loser for the country's top post, as its presidential candidate for Ghana's 2008 general elections. Efam Dovi filed this report from the capital, Accra.

At a national delegates' congress in Accra late Thursday, the party overwhelmingly elected Professor John Evans Atta Mills, to represent the NDC in the West Africannation's fifth general elections, since the return to democratic rule in 1992.

An official of the country's Electoral Commission, which conducted the elections, declared him the winner for the election, which was contested by three other candidates.

"Professor John Evan Atta Mills, collected 1,362 votes, representing 81.4 percent, accordingly, the NDC flag bearer for the 2008 election is professor John Evans Atta Mills," he said.

Over 350 international and local observers monitored the elections, which has been described as free and peaceful. Previous NDC congresses have been marked with disturbances, and the party was determined to shed public perception that portrays it as violent.

It is the first time that more candidates have contested for the party's top post, and analysts say it is a sign of political maturity in the NDC, founded by Jerry Rawlings, who still has strong influence in the party.

Mills, a former vice president during Jerry Rawlings' last term as an elected president, lost two elections to President John Kufuor's ruling New Patriotic Party (N.P.P.). President Kufuor steps down in two years, when he completes a mandatory two four-year terms.

The professor of tax law is generally seen as less charismatic, and many fear, he will be influenced by Rawlings, who had openly supported him during Mills' first two bids for the party's post.

A rejuvenated Mills described his win as victory for all contestants and called for unity within the party, which has seen two breakaway factions.

"There have been five winners tonight, Mr Edward Annan, Alhaji Mahamma Iddrisu, Dr Ekow Spio-Garbrah, Atta Mills and NDC," he said.

"We had to choose one person. But I believe you should all agree that we should have four people being at the helm of affairs getting united to push NDC forward. As I said, the competition is over; all campaign teams are here by dissolved," he added.

Analysts say Mills' third win posses a challenge to the ruling NPP, which so far has about 10 potential candidates, declared interest to contest the NPP's top post, at nextyear's congress.

Ben Ephson is a political analysts and managing editor of the Dispatch newspaper in Ghana. He says the NPP will have to re-strategize.

"Because, what else are you going to say about him (Mills) that you haven't said before? He went to a round-off [in 2000], in 2004 people expected the [NDC] party todo worse than they did, so that is a challenge," he said. "Two the NPP's other challenge is in their own self. Are they going to press the self destruction button?"

Ghana, now one the leading democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa, has had a checkered political history which has been characterized with a series of military coups. The country returned to constitutional rule in 1992 and has since held several peaceful elections, which saw the handing over of power, from one elected government to the other.