Ghana election to test credentials of "model democracy"

Thu Dec 6, 2012 6:16pm EST
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By Kwasi Kpodo and Richard Valdmanis

ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghanaians choose on Friday who will run one of Africa's most stable democracies as a surge in oil revenues promises to boost development and economic growth.

Ghana has earned a reputation as an oasis of stability and progress in West Africa, a part of the world better known for civil wars, coups, entrenched poverty and corruption.

"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.

Incumbent leader John Dramani Mahama - who replaced the late John Atta Mills after his death from an illness in July - will face main opposition candidate Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), and six others.

Opinion polls point to a tight race between the two main candidates, raising the prospect of a repeat of the near deadlock in 2008 elections, in which Mills defeated Akufo-Addo with a margin of less than one percent.

"We know it will be close, but the important thing is that Ghanaians will accept the results," said John Mark, a shuttle bus driver in the sprawling capital Accra. "We must preserve our peace," he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called Ghana a "model of democracy in Africa" for stepping back from the brink during the tight 2008 polls, when other countries in the region might have tipped into conflict.

Ivory Coast erupted into civil war last year after disputed elections in 2010, and other regional neighbors Mali and Guinea Bissau have been thrown into chaos by military coups.   Continued...

REFILE - CORRECTING DATE IN LAST SENTENCE Ghana's presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo (front C) of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) waves during his last rally at Sutherland Addy Children's Park in Accra December 5, 2012. Ghana's cliff-hanger presidential election on Friday will test the country's reputation as a bulwark for democracy and economic growth in Africa's so-called coup-belt. The stakes are high with rivals jousting for a chance to oversee a boom in oil revenues that has brought hopes of increased development in a country where the average person makes less than $4 a day. Picture taken December 5, 2012. REUTERS/Luc Gnago