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Ghana’s epic nail-biter of an election has finally ended with opposition leader John Atta Mills being declared the winner by the narrowest of margins: barely 40,000 votes out of 9 million, or less than 0.5 percent of votes from the past week’s run-off.
Virtually everybody was expecting a close race, but the contest got tighter and increasingly acrimonious as both rival camps sensed power was within their reach. As the vote went down to the wire, to be decided with delayed voting held in one final constituency on Jan 2, the ruling New National Party (NNP) announced a boycott and launched legal proceedings to postpone the poll and freeze the announcement of results.
After a year that has seen electoral bloodshed in Kenya and Zimbabwe one analyst who has followed the vote closely warned that incidents of violence during the polls indicated Ghana “may be coming close to that abyss of no-return”.
Yet shortly after the Electoral Commission announced results on Saturday, Akufo-Addo conceded defeat, congratulated Mills and both candidates were stressing the need for cooperation and consensus between their two parties.
What a difference a few hours makes – although Whether they are able to make that promise a reality for the party rank and file caught up in the bitter rivalries of the past few months, only time will tell.
So what was all the fuss about? By the most alarming interpretations, Ghana has stepped back from the brink of chaos. Others say it was just healthy competition.
Some observers say the simple fact the country’s institutions, especially its Electoral Commission, were able to cope with such a tense, tight race and ensure both sides respected the results, is proof of the deep roots democracy has in Ghana. That is a point of pride for many Ghanaians aware of their country’s history as the first sub-Saharan colony to achieve independence and one of the first to adopt democratic politics under outspoken former coup-leader Jerry Rawlings, who appointed Mills as his vice-president in the 1990s.
So is the bitter wrangling between the two main parties a “slur on Ghana’s democratic credentials”, as one analyst put it? Or should the country be proud that even such a hard-fought election should end without widespread violence? Do the past month’s elections show Ghana’s democracy is alive and well, or expose its weaknesses? How does it compare with elections elsewhere in Africa? And, given many people say there is little difference between the manifestoes of the centre-right NPP and Mills’s centre-left National Democratic Congress (NDC), was the election worth the risk?
(Picture: Supporters of Mills of opposition NDC party celebrate their candidate’s win after elections in Accra. Luc Gnago / Reuters)