Ghana votes in elec­tion amid eco­nomic slump

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ghana­ians voted yes­ter­day in tight pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary polls that are seen as a lit­mus test of sta­bil­ity for Africa’s most se­cure democ­racy as it wres­tles with a stum­bling econ­omy and cor­rup­tion scan­dals. Once praised by US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama for its peace­ful transfers of power, Ghana has come un­der fire amid re­ports of voter in­tim­i­da­tion and ques­tions over the in­de­pen­dence of its elec­tion agency.

Charis­matic Pres­i­dent John Ma­hama is run­ning for re­elec­tion against vet­eran politi­cian Nana Akufo-Addo, who has chipped away at the pop­u­lar­ity of the rul­ing Na­tional Demo­cratic Congress (NDC) party by crit­i­ciz­ing the coun­try’s slug­gish growth and high-pro­file cor­rup­tion scan­dals. There are some 15 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers in this West African coun­try, and polling sta­tions opened at 0700 GMT.

The win­ner will serve a four-year term in a for­merly boom­ing coun­try that has seen its econ­omy slow, cur­rency de­te­ri­o­rate and in­fla­tion soar. An ex­porter of gold, co­coa and oil, Ghana was once hailed as a re­gional growth model but has now taken on too much debt, and in 2015 had to go to the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund for a bailout.

Ma­hama ‘has done well for us’

“We are fac­ing a lot of prob­lems eco­nom­i­cally, ev­ery­thing is messy,” Julie Amo­fah, 26, who voted in Kibi, a town 80 kilo­me­ters from the cap­i­tal, Accra. “I voted for change so we can move for­ward.” Shadrack Opoku, an 18-year-old high school stu­dent, said Akufo-Addo of the New Pa­tri­otic Party (NPP) is the “right per­son for our coun­try” who can se­cure fu­ture growth.

“When we com­plete uni­ver­sity, we want bet­ter jobs,” Opoku said. “Right now it’s not good.” There are seven can­di­dates bat­tling for the top job and if the smaller par­ties per­form well and deny ei­ther man a ma­jor­ity, a run-off will be held later this month. Ma­hama, 58, is seek­ing a sec­ond term, with Akufo-Addo, 72, mak­ing his third and likely fi­nal-bid for the high­est of­fice.

In the fi­nal days of the cam­paign, Ma­hama flexed his sig­nif­i­cant re­sources to reach as many bat­tle­ground re­gions as pos­si­ble where he in­au­gu­rated block­buster in­fra­struc­ture projects, in­clud­ing rail­ways and air­ports. “Ma­hama has done well for us,” said Abudula Al­has­san, a 40year-old driver in the north­ern town of Bole, a gov­ern­ment strong­hold. In con­trast, Akufo-Addo has blasted Ghana’s poor eco­nomic growth which stood at 3.3 per­cent in 2016 — the slow­est rate in two decades-and has out­lined de­tailed plans to get the econ­omy back on track.

He has also lam­basted Ma­hama’s gov­ern­ment over a series of cor­rup­tion scan­dals in which scores of judges have been im­pli­cated. Crit­ics say he squan­dered the coun­try’s com­mod­ity wealth and turned a blind eye to graft within his in­ner cir­cle. Dur­ing his ten­ure, the Bank of Ghana con­tro­ver­sially bought half a mil­lion dol­lars worth of gold Swiss watches for some of its staff. Aku­foAddo has also al­leged that the rul­ing party is fo­ment­ing vi­o­lence, a claim Ma­hama de­nies.

But ahead of the vote, ten­sions were build­ing. Po­lice said an NPP sup­porter was beaten to death and six oth­ers were crit­i­cally wounded dur­ing clashes on Mon­day be­tween sup­port­ers of the two main par­ties fol­low­ing a rally in the north. Elec­tions in Ghana are fa­mously close fought, with Ma­hama nar­rowly win­ning in 2012 with 50.7 per­cent. But polls in Africa this year have been a mixed bag of sur­pris­ing tri­umphs and sober­ing fail­ures for democ­racy.

In Gam­bia, a dic­ta­tor of 22 years con­ceded de­feat, while in oil-rich Gabon the Bongo fam­ily con­tin­ued its 50-year reign af­ter a dis­puted elec­tion. But Ghana is still seen as an ex­am­ple of peace and sta­bil­ity in West Africa. Poll­sters are di­vided in a coun­try whose demo­cratic cre­den­tials have come un­der scru­tiny af­ter crit­i­cism of its elec­toral com­mis­sion fol­low­ing the 2012 elec­tions. Fol­low­ing the last elec­tions in 2012, Aku­foAddo-who polled 47.7 per­cent of the vote-con­tested the re­sults in Ghana’s con­sti­tu­tional court, al­though he was ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful. Aku­foAddo, who said pre­vi­ously that he would ac­cept the re­sults even if he loses, added re­cently: “Those are hur­dles we have to jump once we get there.” —AFP

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