- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

ACCRA, Ghana | Ghana’s presidential runoff vote appeared to go smoothly Sunday, observers and analysts said, even though the West African nation’s ruling party and opposition traded allegations of rigging.

Nana Akufo-Addo of the ruling party faced opposition candidate John Atta Mills, whose campaign maintains that the country’s economic growth has not been felt in people’s wallets.

“On the whole, the election has been peaceful, with just some queues at some of the polling stations too long and too slow,” said Kwesi Jonah, a scholar-in-residence at the Institute of Democratic Governance, an independent think tank.

President John Kufuor is stepping down after two terms in office in what is expected to be Ghana’s second successful handover of power from one legitimately elected leader to another.

Observers with the Carter Center, founded by former President Jimmy Carter, have said the first-round Dec. 7 vote was exemplary. Ghana is one of Africa’s few stable democracies.

Neither candidate, though, secured enough votes to win the election outright. Mr. Akufo-Addo received 49.13 percent, while Mr. Atta Mills received 47.92 percent.

During Sunday’s runoff, the opposition said that 33 of its polling agents had been arrested in the Ashanti region, a perceived ruling party stronghold.

“It would therefore be difficult for us to accept the figures from the region and, consequently, the entire results of the elections,” Alex Seghefia, campaign coordinator of the National Democratic Congress, told the Associated Press.

The ruling New Patriotic Party, however, rebutted the allegation, saying the Ashanti region was its stronghold and it would not do anything to put the results from that area in doubt.

“We have also had reports of people snatching ballot boxes in order to destroy voting and we know these are not our party supporters,” ruling party spokesman Arthur Kennedy said.

The top U.S. envoy for Africa cautioned the political leadership to handle the final stages of the runoff with care to avoid inciting people.

“In my tour of various polling stations, there have been a lot of allegations from both parties and it therefore requires the leaders of the parties to be circumspect and behave responsibly,” said Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

David Pottie of the Carter Center said ballot counting was under way Sunday night and that his organization had been receiving partial preliminary reports from across the country. While the group had heard of “some irregularities in a few locations,” Mr. Pottie said the organization had not received a large number of such reports.

About 5,000 security personnel were deployed across the country before Sunday’s vote. During the first round, there were tensions between supporters of the two main parties, and isolated cases of violence at polling stations in the country’s interior.

Ghana, a rare example of democracy in a region of totalitarian states, suffered back-to-back coups in the 1970s and 1980s. But after ruling for 11 years, strongman Jerry Rawlings organized elections. He won two terms, then surprised the world by ceding power when his party’s candidate lost to Mr. Kufuor in the 2000 vote.

Ever since 1957, when it became the first nation in Africa to declare independence from its colonial ruler, Ghana has had the weight of history on its shoulders.

Ghana has seen more than 6 percent growth since Mr. Akufo-Addo’s party took office eight years ago. Investment has grown 20-fold, and oil discovered off the country’s coast last year is expected to start pumping $2 billion to $3 billion annually into the state purse within the next two years.

Yet many say there is little to show for all the statistics indicating success. Ghana remains one of the world’s poorest countries. One in 10 adults is unemployed and 40 percent of the population cannot read or write. The average citizen earns $3.80 a day and is dead at 59.

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