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Ghana extends presidential vote after technical glitches

Ghana extended voting in presidential and legislative elections into a second day on Saturday after technical problems led to long delays. Ghanaians hope the vote will demonstrate the country's democratic credentials in an often unstable region.


Ghana extended voting in its presidential election into a second day on Saturday after technical problems led to long delays in some areas.

Ghana began voting on Friday in high-stakes presidential and legislative elections that will be a test of the West African nation’s reputation as a regional beacon of democracy.

"Voting will continue tomorrow so that these people will have the opportunity to cast their ballots," Electoral Commission Spokesman Christian Owusu-Parry told a local radio station, referring to areas where voting had been impeded by the breakdown of biometric machines.

Turnout was high on Friday morning in a close face-off between incumbent President John Dramani Mahama and the New Patriotic Party’s Nana Akufo-Addo, who lost the 2008 election by less than one percentage point.

FRANCE 24's Laura Burke reports from Accra, Ghana

Much is at stake for a country whose economy has been booming in recent years - by 14 percent in 2011 and an expected eight per cent in 2012 and 2013.

One of the world’s newest oil producers, Ghana is also a top African exporter of gold and cocoa. And while voters are keen to see this prosperity trickle down, high in their minds is pride in the country’s democratic credentials and hope that the vote will be free, fair and transparent.

“I know these elections will be peaceful, they have to be peaceful,” businessman Kwame Latsu told FRANCE 24 on Friday. “Ghana must - and will - maintain its reputation as West Africa’s beacon of democracy.”

Ideological gap

Ghana was the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence from colonial rule in 1957. But a series of coups meant the country suffered military rule until 1992.

Since then, Ghana has had the region’s cleanest democratic record, with both Mahama’s National Democratic Congress (NDC) and Akufo-Addo New Patriotic Party (NPP) alternating in power.

But as the government’s coffers have filled from growing exports and new wealth from oil, the ideological gap between the two parties has widened.

“Mutual loathing may be a good way to describe how the parties view each other,” Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, a political science professor at the University of Ghana, told AFP.

“Both parties have tasted power. They know what comes with power. If you capture the presidency, you control all the machinery of the state, and unlike the past, we now have oil. The state coffers will be brimming.”

The two parties have both promised to use that wealth to improve the lot of ordinary Ghanaians.

Social reform vs. Infrastructure

FRANCE 24 correspondent Laura Burke, reporting from Accra, said Akufo-Addo was promising wide-ranging - and expensive - social reforms.

“He is promising to industrialise the economy and to bring more people into the formal employment sector,” she said on Friday. “But the key policy of his campaign is to provide free secondary education and to guarantee free healthcare. Healthcare is supposed to be free but in reality most people pay when they go to hospital."

Mahama, she said, was urging a more cautious approach to social reform, arguing instead that new revenues from oil should be spent updating the country’s infrastructure in a bid to guarantee future growth.

Voters are further electing a new 275-seat parliament. The NDC won a narrow edge in seats over the NPP in the 2008 elections.

The names of six minor candidates also appear on the presidential ballot, and if neither of the candidates from the two main parties gets 50 percent of the vote, the election will go to a runoff at the end of December.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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