Ex-president’s death raises stakes for 2012 presidential polls.
TODAY is a special day for Ghanaians. It is a day that they would bury Professor John Evans Atta Mills, the first Ghanaian president to die in office. Today is a climax of a three-day burial programme, which began on Wednesday. Mills is to be buried on the grounds of the seat of government at Osu Castle in Accra, the Ghanaian Capital.
Some 16 heads of state in addition to other foreign dignitaries, including the US Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Clinton, are expected at the state burial service, according to Chairman of the funeral committee, Kofi Totobi-Quakyi. Clinton is currently on an African tour.
The death of Mills, a professor of Economics, on July 24, five months ahead of elections in which he was to seek re-election, threw the West African nation into mourning and raised stakes for the presidential contest in a country that recently joined the ranks of the world’s significant oil producers.
Ghana’s new President, John Dramani Mahama, government officials and diplomats viewed Mills body at the parliamentary complex, Accra, where it was lying in state on Wednesday, followed by the general public yesterday. There were showers of tributes on both Wednesday and yesterday evenings, including music and speeches.
Accra was filled with tributes to Mills, who was widely praised for his integrity, including billboards saying, “we shall always remember you,” while many residents wore black and red bands and scarves as symbols of their grief.
“The outpourings of emotions on the death of our president show that we Ghanaians are united in our collective sense of loss,” Totobi-Quakyie said.
Accra police commissioner Patrick Timbillah said heavy security would be in place for the funeral, with major roads cordoned off.
Totobi-Quakyi said the family would hold a private service in Mills’ place of birth on Sunday in the village of Ekumfi Otuam.
But for Mills death, Ghana’s political landscape would have been electrified with presidential and parliamentary candidates touring all parts of the country on electoral campaigns.
Currently, these campaigns are on pause to give the late President a befitting burial. However, with the Electoral Commission of Ghana (ECG) insisting that Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on December 7, 2012 and prospective run-off on December 28, the candidates will resume activities after the burial.
The ruling National Democratic Congress, NDC, is expected to endorse the new President, Mahama, who had been vice president to Mills and was sworn in to serve out the remainder of Mills’ term, as its presidential flagbearer.
He will square up against the likes of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom of the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), Hassan Ayariga of the Peoples National Convention (PNC), Dr Abu Sakara, of the Convention People’s Party, CPP among others.
Mills death has averted what would have panned out as a repeat of the 2008 contest where the late president ran a very tight race with Akufo-Addo and narrowly edged out the then ruling NPP standard bearer with “change” as his campaign slogan.
He contested the presidency on the plank of the NDC, then an opposition party, which also won the majority in the 230-member Parliament with 116 seats. It was followed by NPP (107), PNC, two seats; CPP, one and independent candidates, four.
In the race, the tightest in the 55-year history of Ghana as an independent nation, Mills won the presidency after three polls in four weeks – the first ballot, a run-off and a mini-run-off in a constituency with 4,521,032 votes (50.23 per cent). Akufo-Addo polled 4,480,446 votes (49.77 per cent).
The politician’s death has also altered an emerging trend in the history of Ghana elections. It will be the first time an incumbent president will not stand for re-election. So, Ghanaians have been denied the opportunity of re-electing a sitting president as they have been doing since 1996.
After his stint as military ruler, retired Flt Lieutnant Jerry Rawlings won the presidential polls in 1992 as well as a re-election in 1996 on the banner of the NDC with Mills as his vice.
At the expiration of Rawlings’ tenure, the Ghanaian electorate abandoned the NDC for the NPP, an opposition party via a tight race as the 2000 polls could not produce an outright winner. The NPP, which fielded John Kufuor, won the preceding run-off.
Like Rawlings, ex-president Kufuor was handed a second term in 2004 but his party was rejected by the electorate at the end of his tenure in 2008 with Mills of the NDC winning.
Having successfully held smooth transition elections for 20 years, since 1992, Ghana, a country of some 25 million people, is seen as a bastion of democracy in the often turbulent West African region.
Recently, President Mahama said his administration would ensure that the 2012 polls would be one of the most peaceful elections that Ghana had ever witnessed. He stressed that the electoral process would be transparent, free and fair such that the outcome would be acceptable to all Ghanians.
It is to be seen if the country would sustain the tempo and retain her status of oasis of democracy in Africa.