Ghana polls open for second day of voting due to technical hitches
A woman casts her vote for president, during an unexpected second day of voting in Accra, Ghana, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Gabriela Barnuevo)
Laura Burke, The Associated Press
Published Saturday, December 8, 2012 10:36AM EST
ACCRA, Ghana -- About 413 polling stations reopened Saturday for an unexpected second day of voting here after there were technical breakdowns on the first day of voting, Ghana voting officials announced.
The number of polling stations that had problems with the new biometric voter identification system and had to open for a second day of voting represent 1.6 percent of Ghana's 26,004 polling stations, said Christian Owusu-Parry, a spokesman for Ghana's Electoral Commission. Most of those stations are in the capital, Accra, he said.
Some voters waited in line all day Friday and then returned to vote on Saturday.
Final results are expected Tuesday, although some constituencies have already declared results.
The voting is expected to be the sixth transparent election in this West African nation of 25 million people which is known as a beacon of democracy in a tumultuous region.
Proud of their democratic heritage, residents of this balmy, seaside capital trudged to the polls Friday, more than four hours before the sun was even up, standing inches apart in queues that in some places stretched 1,000-people deep.
By afternoon, some voters were getting agitated, after hitches with the use of a new biometric system caused delays at numerous polling stations.
Each polling station had a single biometric machine, and if it failed to identify the voter's fingerprint, or if it broke down, there was no backup. At one polling station where the machine had broken down, a local chief said he'd barely moved a few inches: "I'm 58 years old, and I've been standing in this queue all day," Nana Owusu said. "It's not good."
Late Friday, when it became clear that large numbers of people had not been able to vote, the election commission announced it would extend voting to a second day.
This nation of 25 million is deeply attached to its tradition of democracy, and voters were urging each other to remain calm while they waited their turn to choose from one of eight presidential contenders, including President John Dramani Mahama and his main challenger, Nana Akufo-Addo.
"Elections remind us how young our democracy is, how fragile it is," said author Martina Odonkor, 44. "I think elections are a time when we all lose our cockiness about being such a shining light of democracy in Africa, and we start to get a bit nervous that things could go back to how they used to be."
Ghana was once a troubled nation that suffered five coups and decades of stagnation, before turning a corner in the 1990s. It is now a pacesetter for the continent's efforts to become democratic. No other West African country has had so many elections deemed free and fair, a reputation that voters hold close to their hearts.
The incumbent Mahama, a former vice president, was catapulted into office in July after the unexpected death of President John Atta Mills. Before becoming vice president in 2009, the 54-year-old Mahama served as a minister and a member of parliament. He's also written an acclaimed biography, recalling Ghana's troubled past, called "My First Coup d'Etat."
Akufo-Addo is a former foreign minister and the son of one of Ghana's previous presidents. In 2008, Akufo-Addo lost the last presidential election to Mills by less than 1 percent during a runoff vote. Both candidates are trying to make the case that they will use the nation's oil riches to help the poor.
Besides being one of the few established democracies in the region, Ghana also has the fastest-growing economy. Oil was discovered in 2007 and the country began producing it in December 2010. But a deep divide still exists between those benefiting from the country's oil, cocoa and mineral wealth and those left behind financially.
In an interview on the eve of the vote, Akufo-Addo told The Associated Press that the first thing he will do if elected is begin working on providing free high school education for all. "It's a matter of great concern to me," he said, adding that he plans to use the oil wealth to educate the population, industrialize the economy and create better jobs for Ghanaians.
Policy-oriented and intellectual, Akufo-Addo is favored by the young and urbanized voters.
Polls show that voters are almost evenly split between Mahama and Akudo-Addo, over who can best deliver on the promise of development.