Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ghana Braces For Decisive Presidential Runoff

Ghana braces for decisive presidential runoff

Sunday, December 28

ACCRA (AFP) - - Ghanaians are to vote in a tight presidential runoff election seen as a test of the country's democracy and stability at a time when west Africa is experiencing its second coup this year.

The election pits against one another candidates from the two parties that have each ruled the country for eight years since the advent of democracy in Ghana, a country widely seen as an oasis of calm in a generally volatile region.

Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) of outgoing president John Kufuor is squaring off against John Atta-Mills of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) of ex-president Jerry Rawlings.

The vote was forced into a second round after neither of the two leading candidates won more than 50 percent of ballots cast in the first round on December 7.

Akufo-Addo led in the first round with 49.13 percent of valid ballots cast while Atta-Mills trailed behind with 47.92 percent.

But the NDC is now the largest party in parliament after it swept 114 seats out of the 230, while the NPP took 107 seats, according to new figures from the electoral commission.

Seven seats went to smaller opposition parties and two seats are yet to be determined.

The NPP lost 19 seats, all to the NDC.

While observers praised the first round of voting for being largely peaceful, political tensions have notched up to new levels.

On the eve of the runoff the parties of both Akufo-Addo and Atta-Mills accused the other of trying to rig or disrupt the voting.

The NDC said it had noted irregularities in early voting in the runoff, while the NPP said opposition leaflets were trying to inflame tribal and ethnic tension.

Kufuor called for calm: "I am appealing to all Ghanaians... we should all keep cool, go and vote, as a peaceful exercise, as a legitimate exercise."

The electoral commission, the body organising the polls, said preparations for Sunday were well underway and last-minute campaigning went off peacefully.

The polls are being closely watched as a litmus test of whether the country has truly consolidated its democracy.

The elections are only the third since the advent of democracy in Ghana.

Some 12.5 million people are eligible to cast ballots in the voting which begins at 7 am (0700 GMT).

Last week Guinea, Africa's second-oldest independent state, was rocked by a bloodless coup, moments after the death of a its longtime leader Lansana Conte.

Mauritania's first democratically-elected leader was ousted in a coup in August.

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