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Africa

Turnout is high in largely peaceful vote

©

Video by Yuka ROYER

Latest update : 2008-12-08

Ghana went to the polls in large numbers on Sunday to choose between two foreign-trained lawyers, Nana Akufo-Addo and John Atta Mills, in elections that may set an example for African democracy.

REUTERS  - Ghanaians voted in large numbers on Sunday to choose between two foreign-trained lawyers hoping to lead them into an era of oil-funded prosperity in a tight poll that may set an example for African democracy.

 

Observers said voting was generally peaceful despite delays in some areas and violence at a handful of polling stations.

 

Successful polls would be a boost for democracy in Africa after electoral bloodshed in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, and would underpin a country that has become one of Africa's brightest investment prospects due to its political stability.

 

Blue-clad Electoral Commission workers at the Richard Akwei Memorial School polling station in the coastal capital Accra said a prayer, emptied hundreds of ballot papers onto a table and counted them out loud, to cheers from a crowd of onlookers.

 

Provisional results are expected mid-week, but local media are likely to broadcast early voting trends before then.

 

Many voters queued from the early hours for the 7 a.m. (0700 GMT) start.

 

"I was here at 3:15 a.m. I'm anxious for my party to win," Gregoire Adukpo, 62, a retired private security official, said at a polling station set up at a Catholic church.

 

Local radio stations reported that delays distributing vote materials by helicopter meant voting started hours late and may be extended in some islands in Lake Volta, one of the biggest man-made lakes in the world.

 

The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) said it was concerned by the delays and other irregularities.

 

"Voter turnout is going to be very high. I should expect a higher number than we saw in the last elections because I could see this one is very competitive," Electoral Commission Chairman Kwadwo Afari-Gyan said. Turnout in 2004 was a record 85 percent.

 

President John Kufuor, who turns 70 on Monday, is standing down on Jan. 7 after serving the maximum two terms.

 

"What excites me is that I've ended my tenure, I believe, on a good note with the entire nation showing readiness to help select my successor and members of the next parliament," he said after voting near his home in one of Accra's most exclusive areas.

 

He has asked Ghanaians to hand a first-round win to his New Patriotic Party's (NPP) chosen successor Nana Akufo-Addo, a British-trained lawyer and son of a former president.

 

 

 

Run-off

 

Seven other candidates are standing but many people expect a Dec. 28 run-off between Akufo-Addo and main opposition candidate and tax law expert John Atta Mills, of the centre-left NDC.

 

Mills voted in Accra and Akufo-Addo in his home constituency north of Accra. Both said they would win in the first round.

 

NDC founder Jerry Rawlings, a former coup leader who brought democratic rule in the 1990s and stood down eight years ago, voted to loud cheers in a poor neighbourhood behind the seat of government Christianborg Castle, a former slave-trading fort.

 

Voters are also electing the National Assembly, which is currently dominated by Kufuor's NPP with 128 of the 230 seats.

 

The discovery of offshore oil, which Britain's Tullow Oil plans to start pumping at a rate of 120,000 barrels per day in late 2010, has heightened international attention to the poll. But the global slowdown means celebrations may be delayed.

 

"Although there is `everything to play for' in terms of oil, the economic reality is that 2009 will be a difficult year in which to manage the economy," Razia Khan, Africa research head at Standard Chartered Bank, said in a note to investors.

 

Kufuor's centre-right administration has seen the economy grow by over 5 percent annually in recent years and in 2007 launched black Africa's first Eurobond outside South Africa.

 

The former British colony is the world's second biggest cocoa grower and Africa's No. 2 gold miner. But many Ghanaians say the increased wealth has passed them by.

 

"We want the new government to provide jobs. They should give us better schools, better health facilities," said jobless Derrick Agbanyo, 28, waiting to vote in a poor part of Accra.

 

Government critics complain about corruption, and a wave of cocaine trafficking in West Africa over the past few years has not spared Ghana. Last year a member of Kufuor's ruling NNP was jailed in the United States for heroin smuggling.

 

Ghana's fifth consecutive multiparty elections will lead to the second transfer of power from one leader to another through the ballot box -- a rare achievement in a continent beset by conflicts often made worse by vote-rigging.

 

Date created : 2008-12-07

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