Ghanaians Vote in Tight Election as Mahama Seeks Second Term

ACCRA (Capital Markets in Africa) – Voting is under way in Ghana as the nation decides whether to grant President John Mahama a second term in office or hand power to his main adversary, Nana Akufo-Addo, in a race observers, say is too close to call.

The winner will face the task of reigniting growth in West Africa’s second-biggest economy while reining in inflation and consolidating public debt. Both Mahama, 58, and Akufo-Addo, 72, have pledged to build new infrastructure and use the oil-industry revenue to boost manufacturing and create jobs.

“I’m voting for development like roads, schools, and hospitals,” Antoinette Futse, a 40-year-old mother of one said on Wednesday as she waited for a polling station to open at 7:00 a.m. in Nungua, a suburb of the capital, Accra. “If I don’t vote for the things that I want, I won’t get them.”

In 2012, Mahama claimed victory with 50.7 percent of the vote against Akufo-Addo’s 47.8 percent. With seven candidates on the ballot, the winner needs an outright majority of the vote to avoid a runoff.

Staff Absenteeism

While some polling stations opened after the scheduled start due to a lack of election materials or staff absenteeism, voting started across the country with the exception of one constituency in the central Brong Ahafo region, Samuel Tettey, director of electoral services at the Ghana Electoral Commission, told reporters in Accra.

“Voting is going on smoothly in all the polling stations across the nation,” he said.

Mahama voted in Bole, his hometown in the Northern region, about 550 kilometers (342 miles) from Accra, while Akufo-Addo cast his ballot in Kyebi in the Eastern region.

Turnout could be as high as 85 percent of the potential 15.7 million voters, Seidu Alidu, an analyst at the department of political sciences at the University of Ghana in Accra, said by phone.

“Both parties are mobilizing their supporters to go cast their votes,” Alidu said. “The winning margin will be very slim.”

Fastest Pace
After expanding at the fastest annual pace in Africa at 14 percent with the start of oil exports in 2011, the economy is projected to grow 3.3 percent this year, the slowest rate in two decades. Critics from evangelical preachers to pop stars have lambasted Mahama’s failure to solve a crippling energy crisis that resulted in routine 24-hour power cuts.

“The people of Ghana cannot continue suffering under the incompetent Mahama administration,” Akufo-Addo said Sunday at his closing campaign rally in Accra. “We must change the government. Together we are going to build a new Ghana that will ensure prosperity for all.”

Mahama blames Ghana’s sluggish growth on a global decline in commodity prices that’s weighed on income from oil, cocoa, and gold. The government trimmed its wage bill and narrowed the budget deficit to 5.2 percent of gross domestic product after it was forced to agree to an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund last year.

Mahama vowed that growth will accelerate next year once new oil projects operate at full capacity, enabling the state to pay for massive infrastructure works, including highways and airports, that will stimulate jobs.

Consolidating Gains
“We have the choice of consolidating the gains we have made over the last four years, or to give up and begin again on another course of which we have no guarantees of success,” Mahama told a capacity crowd at the 40,000-seat Accra Sports Stadium on Monday. “I place my destiny in your hands.”

Ghana’s relatively poor northern region traditionally votes for Mahama’s National Democratic Congress, while the central regions dominated by the Akan ethnic group back Akufo-Addo’s New Patriotic Party, which ruled the country from 2000 to 2008. The southern coast and Accra are considered swing areas.

Voting stations will remain open until 5:00 p.m. and final results are expected by Friday.

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