Ghana elections: New president to usher in oil era

Ghanaians are voting for a new president on Sunday, December 7, 2008 in a tight race between two foreign-educated lawyers hoping to lead the West African nation into an era of greater prosperity thanks to offshore oil.

The elections are widely expected to be peaceful. That would be a boost for African democracy campaigners after electoral violence in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

Voters waited in their hundreds at some polling stations as the searing sun rose over the coastal capital Accra.

“I was here at 3.15 (0315 GMT). 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 in Accra.

In Accra’s Latebiorkorshie area, electoral officer Solomon Kpabi opened the vote with a prayer, prompting a loud “Amen!” and applause from hundreds of people waiting to vote.

Polling began after only short delays in most places, but witnesses said there were holdups of an hour or more at some polling stations, leading to frustration among those waiting.

President John Kufuor, who turns 70 on Monday, is standing down on January 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. So far so good,” Kufuor said after voting near his home in one of Accra’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

He has asked Ghanaians to deliver 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.

Seven other candidates are standing for the presidency but many Ghanaians expect a December 28 run-off between Akufo-Addo and main opposition candidate and tax law expert John Atta Mills, of the center-left National Democratic Congress (NDC).

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

Voters are also electing the National Assembly, which is currently dominated by Kufuour’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 center-right administration has seen Ghana’s economy grow by more than 5 percent annually in recent years.

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 manifested in the capital’s plush villa complexes and luxury cars 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.

Election monitors have voiced concern over irregularities in voter registration and ethnic violence in some areas during early campaigning, but most expect a peaceful election.

Source: Reuters

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