Good news from West Africa Ghana election: President Jerry Rawlings risks a fair election and wins.


ALL THOSE breakdowns and coups in Africa should not distract from due recognition of progress in Ghana, symbolized by the re-election of an incumbent president, who was a revolutionary dictator before his conversion to democracy,

President Jerry Rawlings held an election almost five years after winning a flawed exercise in 1992. This one was fair and free. International observers and local people agreed. The leading opponent, John Kufuor, a well-educated lawyer and businessman, said as much.

After a tedious, hand-counted vote, the election commission awarded Mr. Rawlings 57.2 percent of the vote and Mr. Kufuor 39.9 percent. Mr. Rawlings' party won 130 of the 200 parliamentary seats. A one-party dictatorship has become a one-party democracy. It is a setback, perhaps, that the paramount ruler was not deposed by the people, but he did give them their first real opportunity since 1979 and, indisputably, they meant to keep him in power.

Mr. Rawlings, who is only 49 now, first seized power in 1979, executing three former heads of state. He restored civilian rule but then kicked it out and took over two years later. He has been the boss since then. But with the Socialist camp recoiling and democracy in the ascendant, he risked his rule for an election in 1992. He won that one, but opponents said he stole it.

This time, Mr. Rawlings really made it fair. And he was rewarded for stability and progress toward a more open economy with free markets, liberal trade and investment and massive privatization. The markets are humming.

Not to make too much of this, but wouldn't it be a good thing if Gen. Sani Abacha of nearby Nigeria, an autocrat who has not discovered democracy, noticed what is happening in Ghana and decided political freedom might be a good idea for his country -- and for him?

Pub Date: 12/14/96

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