Former rivals face off again in tight Ghanaian presidential election

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Voters in Ghana will head to the polls on Monday to choose the country’s next president, in what is expected to be a close race between incumbent Nana Akufo-Addo and his predecessor, John Mahama.

The two longtime rivals, who face each other for the third time in a row as they seek a second and final term, are widely regarded as the top two in a crowded field of 12 candidates.

The campaign largely focused on the economy, infrastructure development and handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The fight against corruption also featured prominently in the run-up to the elections in which the political rivalry that over the past decade has defined the campaigns of Akufo-Addo, the new centrist Patriotic Party (NPP) , and Mahama of the leftist National Democratic Congress (NDC) was widely exposed.

“The candidates spent more time exchanging words than focusing on the challenges facing the population,” said Michael Opoku, a 54-year-old trader in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city.

“I want a better Ghana which will guarantee my future. I’m not so concerned about voting for a political party, but my vote will be for those who want to make a difference when they are elected to power, ”he added.

Despite heightened political tensions, the two main candidates on Friday signed a pact of good conduct and peaceful elections at a ceremony in the capital, Accra, attended by traditional and religious leaders, as well as international observers.

Monday’s vote will be the eighth since Ghana’s first step towards multi-party democracy in 1992. The country has a strong record of smooth power transitions and Ghanaians hope the country will build on its reputation as one of the most stable democracies in West Africa.

The NPP and NDC have peacefully swapped power on several occasions over the past decades, but friction is high this year amid opposition claims over the independence of the electoral commission. Last month, Mahama said the body decided to hold a “flawed election” and threatened to reject the results.

“Recent events under the current administration have given many anxious moments of doubt about the ability of this administration to conduct peaceful and violence-free elections,” Mahama, 62, said during his speech at the signing ceremony. of the peace pact on Friday.

Election officials rejected accusations by the opposition of trying to rig the election.

Nana Akufo-Addo greets her supporters during her last electoral rally on Saturday [Francis Kokoroko/Reuters]

“There is already so much tension on the ground, especially from the opposition, over the likely outcome of the elections. The Election Commission must be fair to everyone, ”said Cynthia Ekow, a 29-year-old student in Accra.

For his part, Akufo-Addo, 76, promised that the will of the electorate would be respected.

“We believe in the elections and I am happy to say that we will accept the verdict of the Ghanaian people,” he said during the ceremony.
“Above all, I promise that the peace, unity and security of Ghana will be our primary concern.”

Prof Kwesi Aning, who is the director of the Faculty of Academic Affairs and Research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center in Accra, said concerns about the post-election period were real.

“Although a peace pact has been signed to deal with, in particular the fallout from the results, work needs to be done for sensitive grassroots supporters on the law and the need to respond to legal disputes,” he said. -he declares.

“The responsibility lies with the leaders and the party structures. Historically, there is a wide gulf between the flowery words of peace and the speed with which the drums of war are beaten in electoral disputes.

Some 63,000 military and paramilitary officers have been deployed across the country to keep the peace during the electoral process and respond to any potential unrest.

Ghana is a major producer of cocoa, gold and oil. But its fast-growing economy was hit during the coronavirus pandemic, compounding analysts’ concerns about high levels of public debt.

In April, the country received $ 1 billion in emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to deal with the impact of the pandemic, and the economy is now expected to grow by 1%.

Akufo-Addo and Mahama both pledged to improve infrastructure despite the country’s growing debt profile.

In recent weeks, Akufo-Addo has highlighted his government’s record in education and access to electricity and pledged to build a new airport in the country’s central region.

Mahama highlighted the public works completed during his four years in office (2012-2016) and pledged to increase infrastructure spending if he is re-elected. He also promised to provide free laptops for college students.

John Mahama chooses former education minister Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang as running mate [Francis Kokoroko/Reuters]

The winner of the election will be decided by simple majority for a candidate who obtains more than 50% of the votes. A second ballot will take place within 21 days if no candidate reaches the threshold of votes cast.

Unlike previous elections, the results could be announced by the electoral commission within 24 hours of voting at around 39,000 polling stations across the country.

“We promote a certain efficiency in the system. We have worked with our figures and we have a period during which the results should be transmitted, ”Election Commission President Jean Mensa recently told reporters in the capital, Accra. “Because of the efficiency that we have introduced into the processes, we should be able to report the results within 24 hours,” she said.

“When the results are announced on time, it reduces speculation about the outcome of the election,” said Ekow, the student.

Among the dozen candidates vying for the presidency, there are three women, including Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, the widow of former President Jerry Rawlings.

A total of 275 parliamentary seats will also be up for grabs in Monday’s polls.

Still, observers don’t expect power to be transferred from the nuclear power plant or the NDC anytime soon.

Anning said Ghanaians would vote “primarily for peace”.

“The story is that change has not come and if change in terms of improving people’s lives is difficult to achieve, then they prefer peace at all costs.

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