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As Ghana mourns president, focus turns to election race

posted 26 Jul 2012, 08:27 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 26 Jul 2012, 08:27 ]

Ghanaians shocked by the death of President John Atta Mills begin a week of mourning, as the country prepares for presidential elections.

Ghana began a week of national mourning on Wednesday (July 25), following the sudden death of President John Atta Mills, as the focus shifted to who will replace him as the ruling party's candidate in a December election.
Flags were flying at half mast across the capital Accra and many people wore black and red, the colours of mourning.

Headlines on the nation's newspapers expressed shock at the country's loss.

Gideon Ismael Adjei, a PhD student from Accra, paid tribute to the former leader, as he read over the front pages of the papers.

"You have the spirit of Ghandi, the spirit of Maria Theresa, Kwame Nkrumah, Martin Luther King. You were like them," he said, referring to Mills.

"It's hard to get such people, so it's a great loss to Ghana, the man came and preached peace, peace, peace, peace all over," he added.

Ghana has seen a smooth transition of power, with Vice-President John Dramini Mahama sworn in on Tuesday (July 24), hours after it was announced that the 68-year-old president had died from a sudden illness.

This ensured that the West African oil, gold and cocoa producer, a former British colony once known as the Gold Coast, avoided the kind of messy political transitions that have plagued other states in a coup-prone region.

Mahama, 53, a historian, former minister and communications expert, is expected to bring a steady hand to a fast-growing economy, one of Africa's newest oil producers.

But questions over who will now step into Mills' shoes as the candidate to keep his governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) in power in December's elections will inject some uncertainty into the political outlook.

Analysts say this could drive down the Ghanaian currency, which has lost about 17 percent against the dollar this year as the country's oil-fuelled boom sucks in capital and consumer imports and drives up demand for dollars to pay for them.

Mills was seeking a second term and had already won his party's nomination to run against the opposition New Patriotic Party's Nana Akufo-Addo, defeating a divisive challenge from Nana Konadu, the wife of still influential ex-president Jerry Rawlings.

Some analysts expect Konadu, whom Mills crushed in the NDC primaries, to claim an automatic nomination.

But Alban Bagbin, Ghana's health minister and a member of the NDC legal team, said the party would hold an extraordinary meeting to pick a new candidate for what is expected to be a tight race for the presidency.

Party members hope the transition will be quick.

"Now that the Vice President has taken over as the President, he becomes the leader of our party. So the executive - we have a National Executive Council - they will meet and they will see what to do, maybe to confirm him as the flag bearer," said Kwame Agyenim-Boateng, the chairman of the United States branch of the NDC.

Analysts say Mills' death has unsettled some opposition election strategies too.

"I think that congress will elect now President Mahama. Another thing is the main opposition party will have to refocus their strategies, because most of their strategies have been insulting the person of the President, not the policies. The man you are insulting is gone, what are you going to do? You can't insult the dead. They (the main opposition party) also have a headache," said journalist Ben Epson.

The opposition has temporarily suspended campaigning during the official mourning period.