Page last updated at 20:05 GMT, Saturday, 27 December 2008

Ghana heads for run-off nail-biter

Left: NPP supporters, Right: NDC supporters

By Will Ross
BBC News, Accra

Ghanaians are likely to be in for another nail-biter. After no candidate secured enough votes to win the 7 December presidential election outright, they are about to queue up at the polling stations for the run- off.

In the first round governing New Patriotic Party candidate Nana Akufo-Addo won 49%, just ahead of John Atta Mills of the opposition National Democratic Congress on 48%.

A Ghanaian man votes in the first round
The first round was widely praised by election observers

Both candidates changed their tactics in between the two elections.

Instead of the huge rallies which often resembled carnivals, they opted for more focused smaller meetings around the country and a hefty dose of begging.

"Oh I didn't vote because I thought we had it in the bag. But this time I won't make that mistake again," was the message on a television campaign encouraging Mr Akufo-Addo's supporters to avoid complacency and to queue up on 28 December.

The NDC tried a little persuasion from a man who was a campaign manager for Mr Akufo-Addo back in 1998 when he had tried to become the NPP's presidential candidate but had lost out to John Kufuor.

"I campaigned for Nana back then but I'm not happy with what the NPP has done in power for the last eight years. So go and vote for Prof Mills," is the gist of the video message featuring Joseph Nunoo-Mensah, a former chief of staff of the armed forces.

Mr and Mrs Spoilt Ballot

Normally in the lead up to a run-off election, the candidates would exert maximum effort trying to woo whoever came in third place in an attempt to tip the balance.

Fishermen in Ghana
The government is aware of the harm that pair trawling has caused to your legal fishing activities
Defence Minister Albert Kan-Dapaah
In Ghana they would have had to scour the nation for Mr or Mrs Spoilt Ballot.

Following the 7 December election, the spoilt ballot papers took the bronze medal with 2%.

This can either be seen as a sign that a lot of Ghanaians got a little nervous and clumsy around the ink pot when they went to mark their ballot papers or a sign of just how weak the country's other parties are.

The fact that there were far more rejected ballot papers in last year's Scottish parliamentary elections than here in Ghana suggests the second option is probably the correct one.

The governing NPP says it can maintain or even increase its lead over Mr Atta Mills but a few of its strategies have been mocked by some Ghanaians in recent days.

When the fuel price was slashed by 17% there were cries of "political gimmick".

There have been reports that thousands of people are to be released from prison - many of them for driving offences.

The police force was also told to stop ordering drivers to pull over to produce permits and papers - a practice which often leads to drivers being compelled to hand over a bribe.

This announcement was also widely seen as an effort to secure more thumb prints next to Mr Akufo-Addo's name.

Fishing for votes

Whatever the outcome of this election, Ghana's fishermen have shown that they not only possess the muscles needed to pull in the huge fishing nets, they also wield some power over the politicians.

John Atta Mills (left), Nana Akufo-Addo (right)
Ghanaians hope the losing candidate will concede defeat gracefully

The governing party lost its parliamentary majority and lost presidential votes partly because many of the fishing communities along the coast punished the NPP at the ballot box.

The fishermen have long been arguing that the government needs to put an end to the illegal trawlers that are destroying fish stocks - especially the practice of "pair trawling" where a giant net is dragged between two boats.

"I must express regret that it has taken this long to put in facilities to effectively check and stop pair trawling. The government is aware of the harm that pair trawling has caused to your legal fishing activities," said Ghana's Defence Minister Albert Kan-Dapaah at last week's launch of a joint naval and air force operation to stop the practice.

"This is too little too late. It is just a political gimmick to vote for the party currently in power," said Kyei Kwadwo Yamoah of the organisation Friends of the Nation Ghana, which has been lobbying the government to do more to protect the fish stocks.

"We may be poor but if you want to stay in power you better listen to us," is the lesson that the fishing communities have shown both parties.


Whilst the NPP is seen by some as an arrogant party which was over-confident during the run-up to this election, the NDC also has an image problem.

Some use the word "thuggish" to describe the party which struggles to cut its links with the country's past military rule.

While former President Jerry Rawlings can still pull a large crowd for the NDC, some voters are put off by the fact that his campaign speeches are peppered with references to the coups he instigated.

So far Ghana has shown the rest of Africa that there is an alternative to the shambolic polls of Zimbabwe and Kenya.

But this election is still work in progress and with such a tight race between two parties, which have little love for each other, most Ghanaians are praying that the 2008 polls pass off peacefully.

The dream scenario would be the sight of the losing candidate stealing a few lines from John McCain's widely praised speech when he gracefully conceded defeat in the US election.

But that may remain just a dream.

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