With each passing day, the date, December 7, 2012, of the Ghana presidential elections is getting ever closer. This is the election that will determine the future of the country: the elections that will determine who will preside over enormous oil revenue of the country, the elections where a leader will be elected who will face a challenge of meeting the heightened expectations of Ghanaian citizens for material improvements to their daily lives.
The policies of the next president will determine whether the country's petro-dollars will be used for the common good or disappear as in other oil-rich countries. The president will have to translate the wealth from the oil fields into something the people could feel, a work that the late president, John Atta Mills has started.
Due to the high-stakes nature of this year's contest, there are already heightened tensions, with acrimonious debate, mud-slinging and allegations.
Ghana has made steady political progress since multi-party democracy was installed in 1992, having experienced two peaceful transfers of power. But the 2012 elections are expected to pose a strong test of its democratic credentials.
There are more than 20 political parties in Ghana but only eight have organised their national congresses to elect their flag-bearers.
The parties which held their national congresses are: the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the Progressive People's Party (PPP), the Convention People's Party (CPP), the People's National Convention (PNC), the Ghana Freedom Party (GFP), the United Front Party (UFP) and the Independent People's Party (IPP).
These are the only parties that are ready for the decisive elections.
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However, there are only two dominant parties in Ghana - the New Patriotic Party, a liberal democratic and liberal conservative party, and the National Democratic Congress, a social democratic party. The former president, John Agyekum Kufuor, who won the 2004 elections, was a candidate of the NPP, while the recent past elections held in 2008, was won by an NDC candidate, late John Atta Mills.
The 2008 presidential elections was one of the tightly contested elections in the history of Ghana. The first round produced no outright winner in the presidential race even though the NPP's candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, came within a spitting distance of the winning the line. He garnered a tantalising 49.13 per cent of the vote cast while NDC's Atta Mills received 47.92 per cent, a difference of 1.21 per cent. Ghana's constitution stipulates that a person shall not be elected as president of Ghana unless more than 50 per cent of the total number of votes cast at the elections is in his favour.
In the second round, Atta Mills won 50.23 per cent of the votes cast, while Akufo-Addo got 49.77 per cent. It was that close.
Who is expected to win?
The main challenger of the NDC's John Dramani Mahama, the incumbent who became the country's new president after the death of John Atta Mills, will take on the NPP's Nana Akufo-Addo, as it was during the previous elections.
The 54-year-old Mahama, who was nominated as the flag-bearer of the NDC, has released his "Better Ghana" manifesto which is a perpetuation of the policies put forth by late president Mills. Mahama pledged to continue late Atta Mills' "unfinished job".
However, Mills' death could harm the NDC's chances of success at the next elections, as Mahama lacks the name recognition of his predecessor, and also introducing a new candidate could undermine the NDC's prospects.
Normally, politicians from the south dominate the political class in Ghana, but Mahama is a Christian from the north, a region that feels neglected. However, Mahama, long regarded a rising star in Ghana's political scene, has served in parliament since 1996 and served as Minister of Communications until 2001. He was running mate to late president Mills during the 2008 elections and took the vice-presidency when Mills claimed victory.
Unlike John Mahama, Nana Akufo-Addo is a well-known politician in the Ghana political arena. He is among the founding members of the NPP. Akufo-Addo and the NPP are campaigning on an anti-corruption platform and boosting education across the board. Akufo-Addo believes in his ability to take Ghana to lead West Africa and the entire continent into a new era of development.
An opinion poll by DaMina Frontier Markets, an international research group based in the United States, has predicted a first round victory for Mahama and his NPP in the December 7 elections.
DaMina says its statistical model, and on-the-ground surveys, predict first round victory for NPP and a return to opposition of the now ruling NDC after only four years in power.
According to DaMina, the NPP would win 52 to 53 per cent of the popular vote in the first round, with the NDC winning not more than 48 per cent. It said traditional incumbency would not help President John Dramani Mahama, with barely less than two months to the vote.
Three months before the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections, DaMina predicted accurately that late Prof John Evans Atta Mills of the NDC would win the second round vote by a margin of some 45,000 and interestingly Mills led the NDC to capture power by 40,000 votes.
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The Minority Leader in Parliament, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu of the NPP, has noted that the NPP should not be excited by the opinion poll but rather continue to work hard to secure victory.
Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said: "We are now in opposition [unlike during the 2008 elections when the NPP was the incumbent party]. Let's not kid ourselves. The battle is going to be stronger than it was in 2008 so we should not be complacent because of the opinion poll."
However, another opinion poll by Synovate Ghana, a research outfit, predicts the NDC will win "if the elections were held today [September 2012]".
Based on empirical evidence on the ground, the late Atta Mills' party stands a better chance of winning the elections.
In a random interview, many people said they will vote for Mahama to continue the "tremendous" development that Mills started. Many people will vote for him because they believe he can continue the development that his predecessor has started having worked under him as vice-president for the past three years.
The death of late President Atta Mills was a national shock in Ghana, almost everybody was shocked by the news of his death on July 24, 2012. Even the opposition expressed condolences to the nation as a whole for "this sad loss to Ghana".
Average Ghanaians think the best way to express their condolence and sympathy to the NDC is to vote for their (NDC) candidate in the December polls and this is what gives Mahama a very good prospect of winning the elections.
Need Mills now than ever
If Ghana has a say in the life of Atta Mills, a former law professor and a tax expert, they would prefer him to live a little longer to steer the affairs of the country for the next four years so as to continue the "tremendous economic development" he started.
Following the discovery of oil in 2007, he presided over Ghana's first oil production in late 2010. He transformed Ghana into one of the fastest growing economiesin the world in 2011: grew by a record-breaking 13.4 per cent last year.
"US President Obama noted that Ghana has become a wonderful success story economically on the continent partly because of the initiatives of President Mills."
During his term of office, President Mills though widely accused by his opponent for corruption, inefficiency causing economic retardation, has adopted tight fiscal and monetary policies to reverse the large twin deficits his government inherited.
Under Mills, Ghana's stable economy experienced sustained reduction in inflation leading to the attainment of single digit inflation of about 8.5 per cent (the lowest inflation rate Ghana had attained in 42 years) from a high of 18.1 per cent in December 2008.
Moreover, Ghana's budget deficit was reduced to 2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product during his tenure compared to 14.5 per cent of GDP in 2008, just before he was elected as the President of Ghana.
US President Barack Obama has noted that Ghana has become a wonderful success story economically on the continent which he said is partly because of the initiatives of President Mills.
Ghana needs him as a law professor, as a tax expert and as a man with a lot of vision and foresight to continue with his unfinished work of developing the nation's economy and expanding the country's infrastructural-base in support of the economy take-off. In the absence of Atta Mills, Ghana needs a man who can continue with his plans and do more to take Ghana to the next level.
As of now, the political climate is very peaceful though it's getting intense by the day. There is no sign of violence in the run-up to the elections. Also, there is no indication that there will be post-elections violence, a hallmark of many African elections, if all things remain equal.
Though the campaign is intensifying, the political parties, some NGOs and the religious leaders are all calling for peace and calm during and after the elections. The electronic media is also carrying jingles calling for peace and tranquility throughout the election process.
Lamin Jahateh is a Gambian journalist and the editor and publisher of Gambia News Online.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.