Ghana's ruling party holds an unprecedented presidential primary on Saturday, with the wife of prominent ex-leader Jerry Rawlings challenging incumbent John Atta Mills for the nomination.
While Ghana has been seen as a rare example of stable democracy in West Africa in recent years, Saturday's primary marks the first time in its history that a sitting president will have to compete for his own party's nomination.
Much will be at stake in the December 2012 presidential vote, with Ghana having recently joined the ranks of the world's large-scale oil producers and seeking to steadily increase output -- along with resulting revenue.
The primary contest at the National Democratic Congress (NDC) convention is between Atta Mills and Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings, wife of Jerry Rawlings, an ex-military ruler who later became an elected president.
Jerry Rawlings seized power in successive coups, in 1979 and 1981, before serving as the elected president from 1993-2001. He maintains wide influence.
Some 3,000 delegates are expected at the primary being held in the city of Sunyani in western Ghana, the country chosen by Barack Obama for his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as US president in 2009.
Analysts say the contest is a positive sign of the country's democratic development, but it has exposed party divisions that could threaten the NDC's chances at winning a second-consecutive presidential term.
"The contest widens the door of internal democracy, which is good. On the other hand, the acrimony and the differences that greeted the campaigning could come back to haunt the party if not dealt with very well," Selorm Branttie, analyst with IMANI Centre for Policy and Education, told AFP.
While she is counting on the popularity of her husband, Rawlings is not likely to have an easy ride, analysts say.
"It will be extremely difficult for the former first lady to win against the sitting president," Branttie said. "The party would like the incumbent to go for the 2012 elections."
Rawlings' campaign has been boosted by the strong support of her husband, a ruling party founder and major critic of the Atta Mills administration.
The couple accuse the Mills administration of failing to prosecute officials from the previous government for alleged corruption. Rawlings says she is in the contest to restore hope and dignity for ordinary Ghanaians.
"We are convinced that the delegates want a unifier, somebody who understands the workings of a political party and therefore will build party structures rather than abandoning them," said Kofi Adams, spokesman for the Rawlingses and a party executive.
Baba Jamal, junior minister of information, said "Atta Mills would win the contest. As a party we need continuity, and Mills is the one to lead the party in 2012".
Atta Mills narrowly won the vote in 2008 with a less than one percent margin against a candidate from the party of incumbent John Kufuor, widely respected for having bowed out gracefully following his two terms in office.
"The ruling party has to come out of the congress more united in order to present a strong candidate for the 2012 election," said Emmanuel Akwetey, executive director with the Institute for Democratic Governance think tank.
Source: AFP Global Edition