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Ghana votes for new president to usher in oil era
Sun Dec 7, 2008 3:35am EST
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By Kwasi Kpodo and Alistair Thomson
ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghanaians queued up and began voting on Sunday to pick a new president in a tight race between two foreign-educated lawyers competing to lead the West African nation as it prepares to cash in on offshore oil reserves.
Peaceful elections, as most observers are expecting, would be a shot in the arm for African democracy campaigners after electoral violence in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.
Voters waited patiently in hundreds-strong queues from the early hours as the sun rose over the coastal capital Accra.
"I was here at 3:15 a.m. I'm anxious for my party to win," Gregoire Adukpo, 62, a retired private security official, said at a polling station set up at a Catholic Church in Accra.
Across town in the Latebiorkorshie area, electoral officer Solomon Kpabi opened the vote with a prayer, prompting a loud "Amen!" and applause from hundreds of people waiting to vote.
President John Kufuor, who turns 70 on Monday, is standing down on January 7 after serving the maximum two terms. He is hoping Ghanaians will vote in his New Patriotic Party's (NPP) chosen successor, British-trained lawyer Nana Akufo-Addo.
Seven other candidates are standing for the presidency but many Ghanaians expect the vote to end in a run-off between Akufo-Addo and main opposition candidate and tax law expert John Atta Mills, of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Voters are also electing the National Assembly, which is currently dominated by Kufuour's NPP with 128 of the 230 seats.
The discovery of offshore oil, which Britain's Tullow Oil plans to start pumping out at a rate of 120,000 barrels per day in late 2010, has raised international attention on the poll. But the global slowdown means celebrations may be delayed.
"Although there is "everything to play for' in terms of oil, the economic reality is that 2009 will be a difficult year in which to manage the economy," Razia Khan, Africa research head at Standard Chartered Bank, said in a note to investors.
"Observers suggest that it is precisely because of the common economic ground between the two leading parties that the election will be close, and a run-off in the presidential election cannot be ruled out," Khan said.
Kufuor's center-right government has pursued market-friendly policies that have helped Ghana's economy grow by more than 5 percent annually in recent years.
But many Ghanaians say the increased wealth -- visible in the plush residential developments and luxury cars in the capital Accra -- have passed them by.
"We want the new government to provide jobs. They should give us better schools, better health facilities," jobless Derrick Agbanyo, 28, said as he waited to vote in Accra. Continued...
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