By Kwasi Kpodo
ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghana's ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) has confirmed newly sworn-in President John Dramani Mahama as its leader in a move seen as boosting his chances of becoming the party's candidate in a presidential election later this year.
The West African oil, cocoa and gold producer has seen a smooth transition of power following the sudden death of President John Atta Mills on Tuesday, but attention has already turned to who will replace him as the NDC's flagbearer in the December vote.
NDC Deputy General Secretary George Lawson said the party confirmed Mahama's leadership at a meeting on Wednesday, in line with the bylaws of the party's constitution.
"The meeting unanimously confirmed His Excellency President John Mahama as the party's new leader. It was a smooth process," Lawson told Reuters on Thursday.
The NDC was due to hold another meeting on Thursday to hammer out a process for electing a candidate to run against the opposition New Patriotic Party's Nana Akufo-Addo in what is expected to be a tight race.
A domestic analyst and party officials said Mahama's new position as leader of the party, a post previously held by Mills, would help clear the path to nomination as its candidate.
"We don't think there will be any contest. It's going to be President Mahama," one key NDC leader told Reuters, asking not to be named.
Analyst Emmanuel Akwetey of the Accra-based Institute of Democratic Governance said the fact that Mahama will enter the competition as Ghana's sitting president would also work in his favor.
"I think it's a done deal," Akwetey said.
Ahead of Mills' death, most analysts had expected a year of election spending testing Ghana's reputation for improved economic management. The government last week sought parliament's permission for extra spending.
Mahama is widely expected to maintain current policies in his caretaker role.
There had been concerns that uncertainty following Mills' death and the prospect of a possible internal struggle within the ruling party could unsettle the political outlook.
One potential challenger is seen as Nana Konadu, wife of former president Jerry Rawlings, who Mills crushed in a divisive party primary.
In an interview to the BBC on Wednesday, former president Rawlings appeared to lay bare some of the existing divisions, claiming that health problems had affected Mills' performance and criticized him for not attending to them better.
Ghana has been one of the best performing economies in Africa over the last few years, helped by high oil prices.
However with exported oil and imported consumer goods paid for in dollars, the local Ghanaian currency has suffered, falling some 17 percent this year and hitting poorer people without access to foreign currency.
Analysts had worried prolonged political uncertainly might delay efforts to address this.
(Editing by Joe Bavier and Myra MacDonald)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp