Long queues formed at polling stations across Ghana as voting began in Ghana on Sunday to choose a new president and 230 legislators. Some early voters said they arrived as early as midnight to ensure they cast their ballots.
Voting is between 0700 and 1700 hours GMT, and counting will be at the polling stations before collation is done at the constituency centres.
First results are expected on Sunday night, but the Electoral Commission said final results would be ready in 72 hours.
Many churches worshipped on Saturday to give voters the chance to vote, but a few churches are still having services on Sunday.
Voting has been generally smooth, but for pockets of glitches where voting materials have arrived late.
Thousands of security personnel made up of police, customs officials, prisons and fire service officers and immigration officials are helping the Electoral Commission to ensure a trouble-free vote in the 22,000 polling stations.
The eastern border has been closed, triggering protest from the Volta Region House of Chiefs who described the action as discriminatory, especially as the foreign minister had assured ECOWAS Ambassadors that all borders will remain open.
The Volta Region is a stronghold of opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Ghanaians are voting 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 calls 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.
”Despite the high world crude oil prices, the annual growth of the economy was 6.2 per cent just 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.
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 rejuvenation of the party of Ghana’s first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), which is 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 not 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 the votes, there is no way one of the two top candidates can win more than 50 per cent,” he said.
An estimated 12.4 million voters were expected to cast their ballots in 22,000 polling stations across the country.
They are faced with a choice of eight presidential candidates, while 1,060 candidates are vying for 230 parliamentary seats.
Incumbent 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 with the NDC having 94, but this picture is most likely to change with the ruling party’s majority in parliament shrinking.
The Electoral Commission has assured voters that the poll will be clean.