Monday, December 08, 2008

'Turnout High' in Ghana National Elections

'Turnout high' in Ghana elections

Officials say turnout could reach record levels

Presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana have attracted a huge turnout, poll officials say.

Observers said that, despite long queues outside some polling stations, the election had been peaceful. The results are expected on Monday.

President John Kufuor is stepping down after serving the maximum two terms.

The race to succeed him is considered to be a tight one. The main contenders are ex-Foreign Minister Nana Akufo-Addo and the opposition's John Atta Mills.

Mr Atta Mills, of the National Democratic Congress, is a candidate for the top office for a third time.


Many voters turned up early at polling stations for Sunday's elections.

"I was here at 3:15 am. I'm anxious for my party to win," Accra resident Gregoire Adukpo, 62, told Reuters news agency.

In as much as we need change, we must maintain the peace we enjoy

"Voter turnout is going to be very high," Electoral Commission Chairman Kwadwo Afari-Gyan said.

"I should expect a higher number than we saw in the last elections because I could see this one is very competitive." Turnout in 2004 was a record 85%.

Ghana is often held up as an example of good government in Africa and the continent is said to be watching how the vote unfolds.

Mr Kufuor said he wanted to see decorum.

Mr Atta Mills, who served as vice-president under Ghana's former leader Jerry Rawlings, said he expected it would be peaceful.

"In any contest you expect a winner and a loser, and parties are likely to accept the results if indeed the conduct of the process is free, fair and transparent," he said.

The New Patriotic Party's Mr Akufo-Addo, a British-trained lawyer, said: "An occasion like this, the fifth successive election that we have had in the last 20 years, is an extremely significant and important day in the evolution of our democracy and its consolidation."

There is little love lost between the two main political parties, the BBC's Will Ross says, and both are looking for victory.

Leadership hopes

At one polling station, business student Sarah Walker said she was worried about unemployment levels and had lots of friends who had "finished school and are roaming the streets". But she also hoped for a peaceful transition.

Ghanaians say they are setting an example to the rest of Africa

"In as much as we need change, we must maintain the peace we enjoy," she said. "We are very scared of what has happened in countries around us, like Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone."

The Convention People's Party, which ushered in Ghana's independence, has picked up support from people disillusioned with the two main parties.

Its candidate, Paa Kwesi Nduom, may secure enough votes to prevent the other leading candidates from achieving a first-round victory, says our correspondent.

This election is important not just for Ghana, but also for the continent, he says.

The fact that the hallmark for a successful election is that it is peaceful is seen by some as a worrying sign of just how low the bar has been set when it comes to judging democracy in Africa, says our correspondent.

Ghanaians pray for peaceful poll

By Will Ross
BBC News, Accra

The election is being monitored by local and international observers
Listeners to local radio stations were calling in, before dawn, with prayers for peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections.

With the polls being held for the first time on a Sunday, many churches had held services the day before to allow their congregations to vote.

In Jamestown, a fishing community in Accra, voters had queued from 0500 GMT, two hours before the polls opened.

"It is all in God's hands but I am sure the elections are going to be peaceful," said 70-year-old Koshie, who was first in the queue at a polling station which once housed an engineering workshop.

They were queuing just along the road from Ussher Fort where Kwame Nkrumah had been locked up by British colonial authorities.

He was elected as an MP while still in the jail and was then released and led the country to independence in 1957.

High stakes

Ghana may have had a bumpy ride since then but these are the fifth successive elections since the return of multi-party politics in 1992.

The stakes are not only high because of recent oil discoveries but also because the country's two main parties have both had eight years in office.

"We Ghanaians don't want violence - everything is going to be fine," said Mavis as she waited to cast her ballot.

"We are going to have a new president - he can be NDC or he can be NPP we just hope he is a good one."

Fusieni Al Hassan has voted for Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor in past elections but would not say which side of the political divide his thumbprint would be going this time.

"This election is a very crucial one because we need good schools and healthcare for our children and we want food in the city with improvements in agriculture," he said.

World attention

Several groups of local and international observers are keeping a close eye on events in Ghana hoping the continent can be given a democratic boost after the shambolic polls in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

"We need good elections in Ghana," said the African Union's chief observer, Salim Ahmed Salim, at a polling station in Accra.

"They have had four elections now and they have been done very well and this will be seen as a consolidation of the democratic process. The attention of not only Africa, but of the world community is on Ghana at this point.

"The example shown by John McCain when he lost [the US elections] despite a very bitter electioneering campaign, is remarkable and I hope that all of us would learn something from there."

With no credible opinion polls, predicting a result is impossible but this is widely seen as another close contest.

Results must be declared within 72 hours from close of polls but, if there is no outright winner, citizens will be back in the voting queues in three weeks time.

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