The Chairman of Electoral Commission of Ghana (ECG), Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan has identified the insulation of the commission from external meddlesomeness through its direct funding from first line charge and the assemblage of knowledgeable and dedicated staff as the greatest secrets behind the ECG’s feat in conducting successive free and fair elections in the English speaking West African country.
Ghana now faces a tense runoff election to decided the final outcome of the presidential election, but many observors say the failure of either of the frontrunners to win in the first round may be good for the African nation.
Nana Akufo-Addo of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) won 49.1 percent of the vote in last Sunday’s first vote, ahead of John Atta-Mills of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) with 47.9 percent, according to the electoral commission.
Both parties had high expectations going into the vote and in a country that experienced many coups in the years before its return to democracy in 1992, a second round will help let off political steam, analysts said.
"It’s good for Ghana that we will have a run-off to ease the tension, it does not mean that the campaign towards a run-off is going to be any easier or more peaceful than it was the first time, its open-ended, it could be quite rough as the candidates finish hard," said Emmanuel Akwetay, executive director of the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG), a non-government group.
"For peace activists the run-off was the dream outcome because the presidential contest had been fought vigorously," he added.
The NDC won most seats in the parliamentary contest, held the same day for which results were announced Thursday. Results from 229 of the 230 constituencies show the opposition secured 113 against the ruling party’s 109, down from 128 in the old parliament. The rest went to minority parties and independents.
If Akufo-Addo wins, it will be the first time in Ghana since 1992 that a head of state has to deal with an opposition-dominated parliament.
Akufo-Addo admitted Wednesday that the next president would have to "work in a consensual manner with this new parliament".
He highlighted his skills as a former diplomat and foreign minister who had brought warring factions together in various countries.
Nana Oye Lithur, head of the Ghana-based African office of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said a run-off could act as shock absorber given the confidence the two parties built ahead of the results announcement.
"It is good because it’s a divided country, and with a second round, a defeat will not be as devastating and as dramatic as in the first round," said Lithur.
Chris Fomunyoh of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) said given the closeness of the vote, Ghana stands to gain from a second round of voting.
"An election this close shows a country politically split almost down the middle," he said.
"A second round will produce a clear cut winner with a mandate to govern and legitimacy that would not be contested for the next four years," he said.
Ruling NPP chairman Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey agreed that a run-off would have a calming effect. "The opposition had been heightening tension over the first round, they have been crying from the very beginning, that this was going would be a Zimbabwe/Kenya affair if they were not declared winners."
Ghana could provide the shining Africa needs after the crises that followed elections in Zimbabwe and Kenya this year, analysts said.