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Ghanaians Vote in Presidential Runoff


Voters across Ghana went to the polls Sunday in a run-off election to see who will succeed out-going President John Kufuor.

Thousands of voters lined up before polling stations opened Sunday morning to cast their ballots for the nation's new president.

One woman waiting to vote at a primary school in the Ashongman neighborhood of the capital, Accra, said turn-out was higher than the first round of voting December 7.

"This time around, people came very early, earlier than parliamentary [elections] and people are still in the queue," she said. "The queue is not moving at all, but people are eager to vote."

Ruling party candidate Nana Akufo-Addo narrowly defeated opposition candidate John Atta-Mills in that first round of voting. But because neither man received the support of more than 50 percent of the electorate, they are going head-to-head to decide who will lead their nation of more than 23 million people

Akufo-Addo is a 64-year-old former attorney general and foreign minister. He says average annual economic growth of more than five percent and progress in improving Ghana's health care and infrastructure during the Kufuor administration should help convince voters to give the ruling party another term in office.

Opposition candidate Atta-Mills is a 64-year-old tax law professor who says it is time for a change after what he calls eight years of "miserable failure." Atta-Mills was vice president to Ghana's former leader, Jerry Rawlings, who came to power in a coup 27 years ago. Mr. Rawlings introduced some economic and political reforms before handing over to President Kufuor eight years ago.

Whoever wins will govern with a decidedly different parliament, as the ruling New Patriotic Party lost its legislative majority in the first round, dropping 21 seats to finish with 107 of the 228 seats in parliament. The opposition National Democratic Congress party picked up 20 seats to finish with 114 seats.

On the eve of Sunday's election, both parties traded accusations of possible vote rigging. The ruling party says its supporters are being intimidated in opposition strongholds. The opposition accuses the ruling party of deploying thugs to polling stations to rig the election.

While the opposition N.D.C. complained of some irregularities in the December seventh balloting, observers found the vote largely free and fair. There are high hopes across the country for a similar outcome this time.

"We have been inspired by the Ghanaian commitment to democracy as shown on the 7th of December, which was an election that, in our experience was as open and as transparent as disciplined as any we have seen," said election observer John Stremlau, vice president for peace programs at the U.S.-based Carter Center. "As you know, any election, any real democracy is full of tension. And what you want to do is to have the conflicts resolved through due process and peaceful means."

Following this past week's military coup in Guinea, election observer and former Speaker of Nigeria's House of Representatives Aminu Bello Masari says Ghana's vote is an important example of democracy in West Africa.

"Going by what was done on seventh December, the impact on the region itself will be such that it will encourage other countries to try to do as much as Ghana or even better," said Masari.

Ghana's next president is likely to enjoy a considerable new source of revenue following the discovery of off-shore oil fields that could produce as much as 150,000 barrels a day by 2010. That is likely to ease the impact of higher food and fuel prices in an economy that is already Africa's second largest producer of gold and the world's second biggest exporter of cocoa.

Results from Sunday's balloting are expected late Monday.

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