Ghanaians vote for new president
AFP Global Edition
December 8, 2008

ACCRA (AFP) - Ghanaians went to the polls on Sunday to choose the man who will succeed President John Kufuor, in an election that observers hope will show a beacon of stability in an African continent rife with conflict.

An incident-free election in Ghana would come as welcome relief after the disputed vote in Kenya that left at least 1,500 people dead earlier this year and the current crisis in Zimbabwe , where the opposition candidate withdrew from the second round amid political violence.

"You can sense that ordinary Africans want elections they can be proud of," said Christopher Fomunyoh, of Washington's National Democratic Institute (NDI).

"After the debacle of Zimbabwe and challenges of Kenya, Ghana may provide the opportunity Africans have been looking for to externalise their pride," Fomunyoh said.

"It would be historical if these watershed elections were well conducted in the country that was first to achieve independence on the African continent," he told AFP.

The former British colony was known as the Gold Coast before independence in 1957.

"It's significant for Africa, and for Ghana in particular, as it was one of the first countries to get independence and if it succeeds it adds a score for the continent," former Botswana president Ketumile Massire told AFP.

He was leading a team of election monitors from the Carter Center who observed the start of voting at the Saint Kizito Catholic School in Accra.

"There have been four elections and every successive election has been an improvement from the previous one, but there's always room for more improvement," he said.

Seven presidential aspirants are vying in the polls -- the country's fifth since the return to multi-party democracy in 1992 -- to succeed Kufuor, one of Africa's most respected leaders who has to stand down after two terms.

But the real contest is between the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) of the fiery former ruler Jerry Rawlings, which was in power until the 2000 elections.

Nana Akufo-Addo, a 64-year-old lawyer from the NPP and John Atta-Mills, also 64, a law professor from the NDC, are the leading contenders for president.

Both Rawlings and Atta-Mills cast their ballots Sunday morning.

The parties of the two main presidential contenders have each had an eight-year stint in power, giving the electorate the chance to compare their respective records.

But Papa Kwesi Nduom, 55, a businessman and consultant representing the Convention People's Party (CPP), could play the role of spoiler.

The election is expected to be a close contest. If necessary, the second round would take place December 28.

In the capital Accra some polling stations opened on time and others were delayed by the late delivery of voting material.

Countrywide, some 22,000 polling stations will remain open until 1700 GMT and provisional results are expected to be made known within 72 hours.

Voters will also choose lawmakers to fill the 230 seats of the country's parliament.

Among the international bodies that have deployed observer missions to monitor the elections are the Commonwealth, the European Union and the West African grouping the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).