January 3, 2009 / 7:10 PM / 11 years ago

Ghana opposition leader wins presidential election

ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghana’s opposition leader John Atta Mills was declared the winner of a closely fought presidential election run-off on Saturday, sweeping his party back to power after eight years.

John Atta Mills (C in white) of the opposition National Democratic Congree (NDC) party arrives to speak after his victory in the Ghana presidential elections at his campaign headquarters in Accra January 3, 2009. Mills won a last run-off vote and was declared president-elect on Saturday, sweeping his party back to power after eight years. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

The poll raised tensions in the gold and cocoa exporting country and challenges by both main parties had threatened to mar an election seen as a chance to bolster Africa’s democratic credentials after flawed ballots elsewhere.

Results of voting in a final constituency on Friday showed Mills, of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), narrowly defeated Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), which lost its parliamentary majority in an election last month.

Mills, a former vice-president who twice lost presidential polls to outgoing NPP President John Kufuor, was conciliatory.

“I want to assure everybody that I will be president for all. There will be no discrimination,” Mills said in a victory speech to thousands of NDC supporters who thronged the streets around his office in the West African country’s capital, Accra.

“I would want to congratulate all other contestants, especially Nana Akufo-Addo, for giving us a good fight. It is my hope that we will be able to work together to build a better Ghana,” he said.

Akufo-Addo conceded defeat. “Our nation is at a crossroads and we must work together to build it peacefully,” he told a news conference. Outside, angry NPP crowds threatened journalists, who had to be escorted inside by party staff.

International monitors say voting has been mostly peaceful.

Ghana’s political stability has attracted growing numbers of foreign investors as it prepares to produce oil in late 2010.

The center-left NDC has promised change after eight years of NPP rule, though analysts say there are few policy differences.

Electoral Commission Chairman Kwadwo Afari-Gyan said Mills won 50.23 percent in the run-off against 49.77 percent for Akufo-Addo.

Neither candidate won a majority in the December 7 poll and run-off voting in all but one of 230 constituencies last Sunday was inconclusive, so the election was decided by Friday’s voting in the rural constituency of Tain.

Former colonial power Britain and ally South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy, were quick to congratulate Mills.

FROM RULING TO LOSING PARTY

The NPP, which lost its parliamentary majority in the election but remains in power until Kufuor steps down on January 7, boycotted the Tain vote over security concerns.

Kufuor served the maximum two terms he is allowed.

Outside Mills’s office, a woman dragged an effigy of an elephant — the NPP’s campaign mascot — in a mock funeral as other NDC supporters chanted “Elephants, go back to the bush!”

“You have cause to celebrate, but let’s not do anything to provoke disunity. We must know that this is only one day in a journey of a million miles,” Mills told his supporters.

Each side has accused the other’s activists of violence and irregularities and appealed to the electoral commission to review some of the results from last Sunday’s vote.

Afari-Gyan said the commission had found no evidence to call the results into question and declared Mills president-elect.

Slideshow (13 Images)

“Essentially, Ghanaians have said the two key political parties must work together. There are still some problems that need solving ... We want our politicians to work together to resolve them,” Abena Amoah, head of investment banking and financing at Renaissance Capital’s Ghana branch, told Reuters.

Kufuor won power when Mills’s NDC ally, former coup leader Jerry Rawlings, stepped down in 2000 after two terms.

Kufuor’s pro-market rule has seen Ghana’s economy become one of the most attractive investment destinations in the region. But critics say his administration failed to tackle widespread corruption, including drug smuggling.

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