It is termed as an encounter featuring four of the eight Presidential Candidates. But for most political analysts, the Presidential Debate at the State Banquet Hall tonight, the last before the nation goes to the polls on Friday, December 7, is a showdown between President John Dramani Mahama and New Patriotic Party Candidate, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.
With the outcome of the elections on a knife edge, the two main contenders are sharpening their tools to dismantle their opponents as a means of catching the eyes of the electorates.
The latest opinion poll conducted by Research International, published in yesterday's issue of The Chronicle, which puts the NPP in the lead, has provided the two protagonists the incentive to go for the jagular this evening.
Even though the debate has been penciled in to cover several thematic areas, The Chronicle has learned that the NPP and its Presidential candidate intends it to be a referendum on the mismanagement of the economy by the National Democratic Congress, headed by the transitional President, who is bidding to stay at Government House on his own mandate.
On the official programme, the debate will cover Good Governance, Natural Resource Management, Women and Gender Issues, Special Selected Groups and others, featuring sports and Culture.
Information from NPP sources indicate that the Presidential Candidate of the elephant family would find ways and means of bringing the Government's economic record to the fore.
Nana Akufo-Addo, is said to be rearing for a go at the NDC Government's mismanagement of the economy, particularly what has come to be known in local parlance as 'judgment debts' and spiraling costs of executing government contracts.
Mrs. Jean Mensa, Executive Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs extended an olive branch to the Presidential Candidate of the People's National Convention. Mr. Hassan Ayariga, who had earlier threatened to pull out of the debate, citing the unfortunate demise of former Vice-President Alhaji Aliu Mahama.
Later, he attempted to shift the goal post by complaining of malaria. But after officials of the IEA had met the People's National Convention, Mr. Ayariga, who was a source of much entertainment in the first encounter at Tamale, returned to the fold.
Yesterday, Mrs. Mensa welcomed the PNC leader to the fold and assured him and all the other candidates of the institute's co-operation to make tonight's debate a memorable one.
Mrs. Mensa said the IEA had taken on board suggestions from the public. Consequently, the four Presidential candidates will all sit in comfort throughout the debate.
There will be effective time management to ensure that the debate does not travel beyond three hours. For the attention of the general public, the debate will be contested by the four Presidential Candidates whose political parties have representations in Parliament.
The order of seating, which was balloted for much earlier, would feature President John Dramani Mahama, the Presidential Candidate of the NDC, Dr. Abu Sakara Foster of the Convention People's Party, Mr. Hassan Ayariga of the People's National Convention, and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, representing the NPP.
Every available space at the State Banquet Hall is expected to be booked, in spite of the fact that the Debate would be broadcast live on all major television networks and radio stations.
The first Presidential Debate in preparation for the December 7 vote took place in Tamale on Tuesday, October 30. On Tuesday, November 6, the only Vice-Presidential Debate was organized at the Akroma Plaza Hotel in Takoradi.
The four contestants were Vice-President Paa Kwesi Bekore Amissah-Arthur, representing the NDC, Ms. Cherita Sarpong Kumankoma of the CPP, Ms. Helen Samorita Dzatugbe Matrevi, of the PNC and Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia, Vice-Presidential Candidate of the NPP.