Lindsay Whitfield (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Project Senior Researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark. She wishes to thank Emmanuel Akwetey and Kwesi Jonah for useful discussions on the 2008 elections, and Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai for comments on earlier drafts of the article. She also thanks the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an early draft, from which the final version has greatly benefited. This article is based on several periods of fieldwork, including one during the pre-election period.
This article analyses the process and outcomes of Ghana's 2008 elections, which saw the National Democratic Congress replace the New Patriotic Party and thus an alternation of ruling party for the second time since (re)democratization in the early 1990s. It argues that Ghana's democratic political system survived the closeness and intensity of the 2008 elections because it has developed stabilizing characteristics: an independent Electoral Commission and transparent electoral processes, integration of the political elite alongside the creation of norms and institutions structuring elite behaviour, and the institutionalization of political parties. The closely competitive elections are the result of a two-party system where voters and political elites are mobilized around two political traditions. These political traditions provide ideological images, founding mythologies and political styles for the parties. Thus, Ghana is different from several African countries where parties split or form around leaders, who bring their popular support base with them. It is also different in that elections are not dominated by ethnic politicization, because the two main parties in Ghana have a strong political support base in most regions and party identification is based on cross-cutting social cleavages of which ethnicity forms only one part.