Monday, December 29, 2008



December 28 2008

ACCRA, Sunday (Reuters)

Ghanaians voted on Sunday in a deciding run-off to choose a president for Africa's newest emerging oil producer, in an election many hope can salvage the continent's battered democratic credentials.

In the capital Accra and across the West African state, which is the world's No. 2 cocoa grower, queues formed outside schools and other public building where polling stations were operating, guarded by armed soldiers and police.

The presidential contest pits Nana Akufo-Addo, of the previously ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), against the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC)'s John Atta Mills, after neither managed an outright win in the Dec. 7 first round.

Both are foreign-trained lawyers, both 64 and both have pledged to maintain the stability and economic growth of recent years which have made the former British Gold Coast colony a favourite of investors on a turbulent continent.

The Ghana ballot, whose first round vote was praised as fair and orderly by observers, follows setbacks to constitutional democracy in Africa this year posed by flawed elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe and military coups in Mauritania and Guinea.

Judith Asem, a 62-year-old retired public servant, brought a kitchen stool to sit on as she waited in line to vote at the Kaneshie Zone Four polling station in Accra.

"I have done my bit, but I want to ensure a brighter future for my grandchildren and my great grandchildren. I will be voting for change towards a better Ghana," she said.

Around 12.4 million Ghanaians, out of a population of 23 million, are registered to vote to choose a successor to President John Kufuor, who is stepping down after two terms, the constitutional limit for remaining in office.

The campaign for the run-off had been spiced with heated rhetoric and the NDC had protested to electoral officials about "irregularities". The authorities deployed extra troops and police to guarantee security in the second round.

"We still have confidence in the goodwill of Ghanaians that they will not do anything to dent the credibility and the image of Ghana as a beacon in West Africa," Deputy Police Superintendent Kwesi Ofori told Reuters.

Turnout could be decisive

In the close-fought first round, Akufo-Addo finished first with just over 49 percent, more than one percentage point ahead of Mills, but he failed to gain the more than 50 percent of votes required to carry the ballot.

Analysts say the presidential election could go either way.

Voter turnout, at nearly 70 percent in the first round, could be key to deciding a winner. A higher turnout would favour the NPP's Akufo-Addo, while a lower turnout -- traditional in second rounds -- could boost the chances of the NDC's Mills.

The vote comes as Ghana, which is also the continent's second largest gold producer, is preparing to start producing oil in commercial quantities from late 2010.

Analysts see possible downside risks in the outcome from Sunday's vote, which follows the NPP losing its majority in parliament in the legislative elections held on Dec. 7.

"Either way, the next president of Ghana -- whether from the NPP or the NDC -- is likely to face a hostile and acrimonious parliament that his party won't be able to easily control," Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, Africa analyst of the Eurasia Group risk consultancy, wrote in a recent briefing note.Two of the national assembly's 230 seats still need to be declared by the electoral commission, which is handling outstanding constituency disputes, and the parliament now appears split -- with the NDC holding 114 seats and the NPP 108.