IN THE NEWS #462 - Ghana Elects New President

By Cynthia Kirk

This is Steve Ember with VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

A newly elected president is preparing to take office in Ghana. Opposition leader John Agyekum Kufuor is to be sworn in as president on Sunday. He won Ghana's presidential election last week.

Mr. Kufuor is a lawyer and leader of the opposition New Patriotic Party. He easily defeated Vice President John Atta Mills in a second presidential election. He won almost sixty-percent of the votes.

Neither candidate received fifty percent of the votes in the first election on December Seventh. So a second election became necessary.

Mr. Kufuor replaces President Jerry Rawlings who has ruled the West African country for nineteen years. Mr. Rawlings is a retired military pilot. He is the leader of the ruling National Democratic Congress. He is the longest serving head of state since Ghana gained independence from Britain in Nineteen-Fifty-Seven.

Mr. Rawlings seized power in Ghana in Nineteen-Seventy-Nine. He briefly re-established civilian rule. He seized power again two years later.

In Nineteen-Ninety-Two, Jerry Rawlings won Ghana's first presidential election. He was re-elected in Nineteen-Ninety-Six. He defeated Mr. Kufuor for the position. The constitution barred Mr. Rawlings from campaigning this year for a third four-year term. He chose John Atta Mills to be the ruling party's presidential candidate.

Mr. Rawlings led a violent military government during the Nineteen-Eighties. But he later accepted democracy and free-market ways. He established major economic reforms. Experts say he had a huge influence over the development of Ghana's economy.

Yet in recent years, Mr. Rawlings has lost popularity as the economy slowed. Ghana's economy has been affected by falling international prices for the country's major exports, cocoa and gold, and by increases in oil prices. The national money, the cedi, has lost fifty-percent of its value in the past year.

Mr. Rawlings is also accused of human rights violations and other wrongdoing in office. His National Democratic Congress lost its majority in the legislature to the New Patriotic Party.

Many Ghanaians had demanded a change. They said the government had lost direction and could no longer govern well. But supporters of Jerry Rawlings said the country's economic crisis is too complex for a new president to deal with effectively.

Observers say there is concern among members of the outgoing administration that they may be targeted for investigations of wrongdoing. Mr. Kufuor earlier accused Mr. Rawlings' party of illegal actions to try to remain in power.

In his victory speech, John Kufuor said there would be no unfair investigations. He promised to work to unify Ghana, strengthen the economy, and increase foreign investment.

This is VOA Special English program was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.

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