ACCRA, December 28 – Ghanaians turned out Sunday to choose a successor to outgoing president John Kufuor in the second round of an election seen as a test of just how stable the West African nation is.,
Nana Akufo-Addo of Kufuor’s New Patriotic Party (NPP) is squaring off against John Atta-Mills of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) of ex-president Jerry Rawlings.
The vote was forced into a run-off after neither of the leading candidates won more than 50 percent of ballots cast in the first round on December 7. The elections are only the third since the country’s return to democracy in 1992.
The first round of voting was hailed by observers as peaceful but tensions have risen in the past few days, with the NPP and NDC trading accusations of plots to rig the election.
At polling stations Sunday voters were unanimous that they wanted peace.
"Before the election people were talking about possible fighting and war. But we don’t want war in Ghana, we don’t want what happened in Ivory Coast to happen here," said Lydia Amponseah, a 28-year-old hairdresser with a baby at her breast.
Neighbouring Ivory Coast, once held up as an African success story, has been in the grip of a political crisis since a failed coup in 2002.
Okyere Darko, a retired military officer of 60, echoed a similar sentiment as he voted in Accra’s Abokobi district:
"We’ve seen troubles before – we don’t want a repeat of that," he told AFP, referring to the years before democracy when Ghana suffered a series of coups.
After the first round the NPP’s Akufo-Addo led with 49.13 percent of valid ballots cast while the NDC’s Atta-Mills trailed with 47.92 percent.
But the NDC is now the largest party in parliament after it swept 114 seats out of the 230, while the NPP took 107 seats, according to new figures from the electoral commission.
Seven seats went to smaller opposition parties and two seats are yet to be determined.
The NPP lost 19 seats, all to the NDC.
On the eve of the runoff the two parties accused each other of trying to rig or disrupt the voting.
The NDC said it had noted irregularities in early voting, while the NPP said opposition leaflets were trying to inflame tribal and ethnic tension.
Kufuor called for calm: "I am appealing to all Ghanaians… we should all keep cool, go and vote, as a peaceful exercise, as a legitimate exercise."
The polls are being closely watched as a litmus test of whether the country has truly consolidated its democracy.
Some 12.5 million people are eligible to cast ballots in the polls which close at 5 pm (1700 GMT).
Last week Guinea, Africa’s second-oldest independent state, was rocked by a bloodless coup, moments after the death of its long-time leader Lansana Conte.
Mauritania’s first democratically-elected leader was ousted in a coup in August.