Ghanaians will go to the polls on Sunday in the fifth presidential and parliamentary elections since the country returned to constitutional rule, with economic issues, security and peace at the top of issues on their minds.
The government has been touting its economic gains that have seen improvements in the statistics and the atmosphere of doing business, hence its call on the electorate to return it to power.
The Central Bank has continued to give the economy a clean bill of health, even in the face of the world economic turmoil, saying it remained resilient and describing it as “modestly strong.”
In its 2007 economic review published in August this year, the governance think-tank, Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), observed: “Overall economic activity during the year 2007 was modestly strong in spite of the energy crisis which started at the end of August 2006 and ended at the end of September 2007.”
Despite the high world crude oil prices, the annual growth of the economy was 6.2 per cent, slightly below the target of 6.5 per cent.
“Indications so far are that the 7.0 per cent real GDP growth for 2008 would be achieved and probably exceeded. That is good news for the economy,” the government spokesman for finance, Kwaku Kwarteng, said.
Inflation has been running at some 18 per cent, a far cry from the single digit target as the economy came under stress in 2006 and 2007.
IEA said this was seen in the shortfall in agriculture due to flood disasters and a slowdown in manufacturing, owing to power shortages at home and crude oil price hikes internationally.
However, it said, “the trend in some selected indicators of the real sector such as income and corporate tax receipts, number of job vacancies advertised and social security contributions confirm that the overall performance of the economy was modestly strong for much of the year (2007).”
The opposition, on its part, has been calling for change, saying the government had failed to deliver on its electoral promise of improved living conditions, jobs, a robust economy, improvement in manufacturing, industry and agriculture.
Perhaps, a thorny point is the highlighting of corruption by opposition, which loudly proclaims that government had been weak in fighting the menace.
Whereas the government said it had passed laws to check corruption, the opposition countered by saying laws alone do not fight corruption, adding that the government had always developed cold feet when it comes to action.
It pointed to the position of Ghana on the anti-corruption index, where it has remained under 4 points in the 10-point scale as a clear evidence of lack of willpower to deal with corruption.
Most importantly, with news about handsome oil strike offshore the Western Region whose revenue could transform the West African country’s economy, the parties are eager to be in power when the black gold is marketed.
Political analysts said the race is a battle between the two top parties, the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), both of which have won two elections each.
However, with the rejuvenated party of Ghana’s first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), riding a new crest wave, pundits said a good performance from that angle could push the presidential vote into a second round, since neither Nana Akufo-Addo of the NPP nor Prof. John Evans Atta Mills of the NDC can manage more than 50 per cent of the vote on Sunday.
“I’ll be surprised if there is a first round winner,” said Ben Ephson, Managing Editor of the Daily Dispatch, arguably the most credible pollster in Ghana.
If all the small parties together garner 10 per cent of the votes, there is no way one of the two top candidates can win more than 50 per cent, he argues.
An estimated 12.4 million voters will cast their ballots in 22,000 polling stations across the country, with polling expected to be between 0700 and 1700 hours.
They will be faced with a choice of eight presidential candidates, while 1,060 candidates are vying for 230 parliamentary seats.
President John Agyekum Kufuor is not contesting after serving out his two-term of four years each.
The presidential candidates are Nana Akufo-Addo for the NPP, Prof. John Evans Atta Mills for NDC, Dr Edward Mahama for the People’s National Convention (PNC), Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom for the Convention People’s Party CCPP), Thomas Ward-Drew for the Democratic People’s Party (DPP), Emmanuel Ansah-Antwi of the Democratic Freedom Party, Kwabena Adjei of the Reformed Patriotic Democrats and Kwesi Amoafo-Yeboah, an independent candidate.
The NPP has an overwhelming 128 seats in the outgoing national assembly, while the NDC has 94, but this picture is most likely to change with the ruling party’s majority in parliament shrinking.
With concerns over a hugely bloated register, fears of the opposition parties, especially the NDC, is that it gives rise for cheating.
However, the Electoral Commission has gone very far to assure voters that the poll will be clean.
Since polls are won or lost at the polling stations, it has, in conjunction with the parties, trained polling agents to keenly police the vote.
“We are ready for the elections,” Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, Chairman of the Electoral Commission, said. “We have dispatched election materials to strongholds to be sent to the polling stations.”
“The final poll results could be declared within 72 hours after the end of voting,” Dr Afari-Gyan said.
“The voting pattern is transparent and at each point of the voting process there is an identifiable glaring system, which would make it impossible for any one to cheat.
“The result of any polling station where the number of votes cast would exceed the number of registered voters would be cancelled,” he said.
There is heightened alertness for a peaceful vote, with Christians and Muslims praying for peace, to avoid Ghana going on the bloody road of Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Gen Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s former Head of State, who is leading a 200-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) observer team, said Ghana had already served as a role model in Africa by taking the lead in attaining independence in 1957 and was expected to continue to show the way.
And while hailing Ghana for its achievement in continuing to be a shining star in the African democratization process, ECOWAS Commission President Mohamed Ibn Chambas said: ”It is the sincere belief of ECOWAS that the elections will mark yet another giant step in the region’s march towards democratic consolidation, the rule of law, peace and development.”
Whatever the outcome, Ghana would have erected another milestone in its democracy journey by seeing another peaceful and constitutional change in government.