Tuesday, December 9, 2008



December 8 2008 at 17:53

ACCRA, Monday
As millions of Ghanaians lined up yesterday from as early as midnight to vote in their presidential election, the jostling crowds were eager to send a message to the world – that after a year of democratic darkness across the continent, free, fair and peaceful elections are possible in Africa.

“This is our home, this is all of our homes,” said former Tanzanian Prime Minister Joseph Warioba, who witnessed polling open at 7am as a representative of the Carter Centre observer mission in Accra. “It’s going to be peaceful, it’s going to be fair. That is our hope.”

Their candidate choices differed, but voters all said the same thing when asked if they were worried about election-related violence.

“No no no,” exclaimed those first in line at Saint Kizito Roman Catholic School in Nima, one of the capital’s poorest neighbourhoods. “All is well,” they said. “We talk, we don’t fight.”

Propositions of peace have tempered all sides of the campaign here. Candidates from both leading parties – the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) – have repeatedly urged the public and media to avoid pushing political passions past dangerous breaking points.

With elections in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria all marred in the last year by violence and fraud, Ghana’s multiparty polls has taken on watershed status for Africa: if Ghana can still get it right, many say, perhaps not all hope is lost.

So far, so good. Despite achingly long lines stretching through yesterday’s 32-degree heat, only few reports of violence or misconduct surfaced.

The domestic observer mission, Codeo, announced yesterday afternoon that while one third of the polling stations their 4000-plus observers visited opened late, everything else appeared well in place.

The nation’s last four elections since returning to democratic rule in 1992 have been praised as credible and consistent. In 2000, former military leader turned NDC president, Jerry Rawlings, peacefully conceded to the NPP’s John Kufuor.

This year, President Kufuor has agreed to step down according to constitutional term limits.

NPP’s new candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, ran on a continuity platform, citing the last eight years of strong economic growth. The NDC’s John Atta Mills says NPP hasn’t done enough – that Ghanaians remain poor, with beaches tarnished by trash heaps and raw sewage flowing through the streets.

As the sun set over the Gulf of Guinea yesterday night, outdoor polling stations began publicly tallying their votes. EC officials dumped ballot boxes open onto tables and counted out votes aloud.

At one small station in the Labone suburb of Accra, a large group of young and old watched patiently as the presidential counts were read.

NPP came first, taking 256 votes. When the EC official neared 250 NDC votes, the docile crowd began to stir. When she hit 257 they went wild. At 300, everyone cheered and counted along: “318! 319! 320!” With the final vote counted, people began dancing, spinning their hands in circles – the NDC sign for change.

Local media have been busy announcing provisional results since yesterday night. The presidential race was in a dead heat today morning with no official numbers from the electoral commission, which has 72 hours to finalise its count. Most expect a run-off if neither candidate gets more than 50 per cent.

The main challenge this week for the country’s 36,000 security forces comes from the impoverished and ethnically divided north, where several people died during voter registration in August.

Everyone is also hoping the new prize of oil – set to begin pumping off Ghana’s coast in 2010 – will not inspire attempts to snatch power at any cost.Anyone who was in Kenya last December will remember the same sense of election day peace. The nightmare began later, with allegations that the electoral commission had cooked the books.

Ghanaians are incredibly conscious of this history, and keen to become a leading example of peaceful democracy in Africa.

E. Gyimah-Boadi, director of Ghana’s Centre for Democratic Development, said Ghana’s electoral system is designed to prevent fraud. Party agents, observers, media and the public are all encouraged to monitor the process at every step: from polling stations all the way into the so-called EC strong room.