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Tuesday, 26 December, 2000, 06:21 GMT
Ghana's bitter second round battle
mock coffin
Many have predicted the demise of the ruling party
By Kwaku Sakyi-Addo in Accra

Ghana is due to hold a presidential election run-off on Thursday, after what has become an increasingly unpleasant campaign.

The two contestants are John Kufuor of the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) and John Atta-Mills, the country's vice-president and candidate of the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC).

John Kufuor
Mr Kufuor goes into the second round with a 4% lead
In the first round of balloting two and a half weeks ago, Mr Mills trailed Mr Kufuor by nearly four percentage points.

Now the two candidates and their parties have entered the final lap with both teams appearing to have abandoned a pact they signed with five other political parties earlier in the year to run a campaign free of mudslinging.

Some NPP officials have challenged Mr Mills's much-touted religious credentials, after he failed to indicate in his personal details that he had an 11-year-old son out of wedlock, who lives with relatives in another town.

Mr Mills says he cares for his son, but his schedule does not permit the boy to live with him, an excuse the opposition have refused to swallow.

Kufuor targeted

Mr Kufuor himself has stayed clear of the attacks, but that has not saved him from personal assaults from the NDC.

John Atta Mills
John Atta Mills is still confident of victory
A newspaper ad published on Saturday portrayed Kufuor as a weak, waffling loser.

It said as a lawyer he had not won any court cases, and as a minister under President Jerry Rawlings in 1982, he had abandoned his post.

Indeed, Mr Kufuor, an Oxford-trained lawyer, hardly practised as a barrister, and he resigned from the Rawlings administration after seven months at the Local Government Ministry.

Tribal wrangling

Besides the personal attacks, there is now an ethnic dimension to the campaign.

The NPP is putting out messages to the Volta Region which voted 96% for the NDC four years ago, and nearly 90% in the first round this year, that it is time for them to "end their isolation", and join the rest of the country for change.

The Volta Region is the home area of outgoing President Jerry Rawlings.

Mr Rawlings, who has been in power since 1981, is ineligible to contest on account of a two-term limit imposed eight years ago. However the Ewes and Anlos tribes of the Volta see the NDC as Rawlings party, not least because he carries the title of "founder and life-leader".

The NDC on the other hand, is painting the NPP as an ethnocentric party, citing the fact that historically most of its leaders and those of its antecedent parties have been Akan. Mr Kufuor is Akan.

However, in the first round, the NPP clearly extended its support base by winning a majority among the Fante people of the western and central regions.

Now, the NDC is telling the Fantes to vote for their own son, Mr Mills. Last week, Mr Mills spent several days among the Fantes of the south-west garnering support.

Many Ghanaians are concerned that the winner in the run-off might very well inherit a country dangerously divided along ethnic lines, if voters pay heed to these messages whose essential theme is, sadly, in sharp contrast with the good tidings of both Christmas and the Islamic festival of Eid ul-Fitr.

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11 Dec 00 | Africa
Ghana votes for change
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