President John Dramani Mahama
By Yemi Adebowale with agency report
Voting in Ghana’s general election continued late into the night yesterday in some polling stations due to delays and logistical problems, but many still hoped it would entrench the country's reputation as a model African democracy.
Voting started very late in most polling stations due to lack of ballots and ballot boxes, and observers said there were numerous reports of the newly introduced electronic fingerprint readers - used to verify voter identities - failing.
Election Commissioner, Kwadwo Afari-Gyan told Reuters that election workers were instructed to keep polling stations open until all ballots were cast.
"If small numbers of people have not finished voting, we will keep polling stations open into the night until they are finished. But if the numbers are too big, we will need to close the polling stations and reopen tomorrow," he said.
The election was a straight fight between President John Dramani Mahama’s National Democratic Congress and Nana Akufo-Addo led New Patriotic Party.
Mahama, who replaced the late John Atta Mills after his death from an illness in July, faced rival Akufo-Addo in the presidential race.
Opinion polls point to a tight race, raising the prospect of a repeat of the near-deadlock of the 2008 elections, in which Mills defeated Akufo-Addo in a run-off with a margin of less than 1 percent.
Results are expected within two days of polls closing. A second round will be held in three weeks if no one wins a majority of the vote.
There was also voting for a new parliament, where Mahama's NDC has enjoyed a slim majority.
Mahama, voting in his home town of Bole in northern Ghana, said that, despite the delays, the election was on course to solidify the country's democratic advances.
"It looks like there have been a few hitches, but they seem isolated," he said after casting his ballot.
"This election is going to consolidate Ghana's democratic credentials once and for all. After we go through this, I believe there will be no doubt, no questions, about the fact that Ghana is a leading democracy in Africa."
The country's three decades of peace and a recent oil-driven economic boom have set Ghana apart in West Africa, a region better known for civil wars, coups and corruption.
After casting his ballot in his native Kyebi, in Ghana's east, Akufo-Addo said the outcome of the vote was "in the hands of the Ghanaian people", adding he had seen no signs of fraud.
Ghana has had five peaceful and constitutional transfers of power since its last coup in 1981, in stark contrast to the turmoil that surrounds it in the region.
While economic woes grip Europe and the United States, Ghana, also a major cocoa and gold producer, is expected to post economic growth of about 8 percent next year and is increasingly praised by investment bankers and fund managers.
"These elections are important not just to Ghana, but for the growing number of states and actors seeking to benefit from increasing confidence in Africa," said Alex Vines, Africa Research Director at Chatham House.
Akufo-Addo, a trained lawyer and son of a former Ghanaian president, has criticized the ruling party for the slow pace of job creation and the fight against poverty, and says he would use oil money to pay for free primary and secondary education.
Mahama, meanwhile, says he aims to boost Ghana's per capita annual income to $2,300 by 2017 - double that in 2009.