ACCRA, Ghana – Ghana's governing party vowed Wednesday to carry out the "unfinished job" of the country's late president as questions swirled about who would replace him on the ticket for December's election.
John Atta Mills, who took power in 2009 after winning a presidential runoff vote by a razor-thin margin, died Tuesday at the age of 68. There was no immediate word on the cause of his death, though there had been rumors about a serious illness in recent months.
Vice President John Mahama was sworn in late Tuesday only hours after Atta Mills passed away, underscoring the West African nation's stability in a part of the world where the deaths of other leaders have sparked coups.
Atta Mills' death, though, could harm his party's chances of staying in power in December's vote. Some already have speculated that the 53-year-old Mahama may become the party's nominee, although some critics say he lacks the name recognition of his predecessor.
Nana Akufo-Addo, who came in second in the 2008 election with 49.77 percent of the vote, is running again. His party has temporarily suspended campaigning during the period of national mourning.
Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the December elections are expected to pose "a strong test" of Ghana's democratic credentials.
"The two leading parties remain evenly matched, as they were in 2008, but the stakes are much higher this time round," Downie said in a statement released Wednesday. "The winning party knows it will get to enjoy the best years of Ghana's oil wealth."
Atta Mills served as president as Ghana began grappling with how to deal with its newfound oil wealth from offshore fields discovered in the last five years. The country of about 25 million saw a growth rate of more than 14 percent last year.
Kwame Agyenim-Boateng, an official in Ghana's governing party, told reporters Wednesday that a meeting to nominate a candidate has not yet been scheduled.
"We have a national executive council and they will meet and decide what to do, maybe to confirm him as the flag bearer," Agyenim-Boateng said at the party headquarters in Accra.
Oheneba Asamoah Atuahene, a party chairman in Kumasi, said the party would work to carry out Atta Mills' legacy.
"We are going to finish his unfinished job," he said.
Words of condolences continued pouring in from world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama.
"President Mills tirelessly worked to improve the lives of the Ghanaian people," Obama said in a statement. "He helped promote economic growth in Ghana in the midst of challenging global circumstances and strengthened Ghana's strong tradition of democracy."