Updated at: 01/07/2013 12:07 PM
By LAURA BURKE
(AP) ACCRA, Ghana - John Dramani Mahama became president of Ghana on Monday, sworn in as the opposition continues to dispute election results in one of West African’s most stable democracies.
Speaking immediately after completing the oath of office, Mahama promised to work toward making Ghana "less polarized" even as the New Patriotic Party has started a court challenge claiming Nana Akufo-Addo won the Dec. 7 poll. Mahama gave few specifics but he said there are challenges ahead for a nation that has just become an oil producer.
"There’s no denying the fact that even after 55 years is Ghana is still a young country," Mahama said at Accra’s Independence Square, reading his speech from a tablet computer, surrounded by giant flags of red, yellow and green. "Every young country goes through its share of instabilities and difficulties," he said.
Mahama, the former vice president who took the helm in July following the unexpected death of President John Atta Mills, was elected with an absolute majority of 50.7 percent in the December poll. Akufo-Addo, his main challenger, won 47.7 percent, according to the nation’s electoral commission.
Ghana, a nation of 25 million on Africa’s western seaboard, is one of the few established and stable democracies in the region. It has held six peaceful multiparty elections in a row. The country is also one of the world’s largest cocoa producers and just recently began producing crude oil at offshore fields.
But even Ghana is not immune to suspicions of electoral fraud and distrust of the country’s relatively new democratic institutions. The opposition said widespread technical glitches that occurred with the biometric machines used to identify voters through their fingerprints created an opportunity for the ruling National Democratic Congress political party to rig the vote. Officials were forced to extend voting into a second day in scores of polling stations due to the malfunctioning equipment.
On Dec. 28, the opposition filed a court challenge to the election results.
The opposition New Patriotic Party, which held power from 2000 to 2008 under John Kufour, alleges 12 percent of the votes counted were invalid due to irregularities. The party claims when the invalid votes are eliminated, Akufo-Addo is the actual winner.
Ghana’s Supreme Court has the power to overturn the electoral body’s results according to the country’s constitution. A decision from the court is not expected for at least several weeks, but the party says neither the delay nor Mahama’s inauguration will hamper their court case.
"The inauguration has absolutely no impact either on the Supreme Court’s proceedings, or its decisions. The Supreme Court has every authority to declare election results invalid, and if it says so, John Mahama will no longer be President," a statement from the National Patriotic Party said.
Yet international observers said Ghana’s election was free and fair, and many wonder how massive fraud could have occurred when members of both parties signed off on results at each polling station and at collation centers.
Some local newspapers have mocked Akufo-Addo for refusing to concede and charged the ruling with trying to disturb the peace.
But the opposition says the constitution allows for election disputes and they have not incited violence.
In his speech, watched by his countrymen and a variety of African leaders and diplomats, Mahama did not bring up the court case or the boycott, rather focusing on the future and promising to make Ghana’s economic achievements available to all.
"A tremendous amount of work has been done. Nevertheless, there is still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done," Mahama said. "Change does not happen overnight. It will appear to darkest before the dawn of a new day makes that progress visible."
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)