ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — President John Dramani Mahama on Sunday was declared the winner of Ghana's presidential election, despite widespread technical glitches with the machines used to identify voters and protests by the country's opposition which claims the vote was rigged.
Armored tanks surrounded Ghana's electoral commission and police barricaded the road around the electoral offices as the election body's chairman Kwadwo Afari-Gyan announced that Mahama had polled 5.5 million votes, or 50.7 percent.
Opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo, who lost the 2008 election by less than 1 percent, came in second with 5.2 million votes, or 47.7 percent, Afari-Gyan said. Voter turnout was high, with around 80 percent of the roughly 14 million registered voters casting ballots in Friday's presidential and parliamentary elections. In a draft statement seen by reporters, the opposition said it would contest the results.
"This situation, if allowed to go unchallenged and uncorrected, would seriously damage the essence of the electoral process and the substance of democracy in Ghana," the New Patriotic Party said in a draft statement that was emailed to reporters.
"To accept this result is to discredit democracy in Ghana and, in the process, distort the process of democratization in Africa. Therefore, the New Patriotic Party cannot accept the results of the presidential election as declared by the EC (election commission) this evening," the statement said.
Ghana has one of the longest traditions of democracy in this troubled corner of Africa, but Friday's election was fraught, after biometric machines used to identify voters through their fingerprints failed to work in scores of polling stations, forcing officials to extend voting into a second day. Akufo-Addo's party has accused the ruling party of using the disorder caused by the technical failure to rig the election.
Ghanaians are deeply attached to their tradition of democracy, and international observers are already calling Friday's election the sixth transparent vote in the country's history. No other country in the region has had as many free and fair votes. However, analysts point out that Ghana's history and its record of democratic progress is not that different from that of nearby Mali, a nation also considered a model democracy until a coup this spring.
The outcome of the election will hinge on whether the 68-year-old Akufo-Addo will accept the results. Neighboring Ivory Coast was dragged to the brink of civil war last year, after that race's loser refused to accept defeat.
"We won, they are sore losers. They wanted (the electoral commission) to postpone announcement of the results and (the chairman) said there is no reason to postpone. There was no foundation for their allegations," said Mahama's presidential adviser, Tony Aidoo. He added that the opposition's allegation of vote rigging "was a plan to create mayhem, and mayhem will come. ... They had such high expectations of coming back to power."
Earlier on Sunday, police fired tear gas and stun guns to fight back opposition supporters. Scores took to Accra's streets, calling on the national electoral body to carry out an audit, and asking them to withhold announcing final results until an investigation is completed. In the hours after the results were announced, however, the capital remained calm, the night air punctuated only by the victory cheers of ruling party supporters.
"Considering the closeness of the polls this error is very significant and goes to the heart of the credibility of the results. Indeed, we have enough concrete evidence to show that the 2012 presidential election was won by our candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo," said Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, chairman of the opposition party.
Despite the allegations, international observers endorsed the elections, calling the vote credible despite the delays caused by the failure of the voter identification machines to work in numerous precincts. The election was also plagued by delays due to the late arrival of voting materials, which resulted in some voters spending 12 or more hours in line.
"There were hiccups but not such that would grossly undermine the result of the election," said former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who led the delegation from ECOWAS, the bloc representing nations in West Africa.
Ahmed Issak Hassan, head of an observer mission from the South Africa-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, said that the election is a test not just for Ghana, but for the continent, which is trying to emerge from a checkered past of coups and civil wars.
"All of Africa was looking at Ghana to make sure that they live up to their reputation and their name of being a mature democracy," he said.
Like most of its neighbors Ghana, a nation of 25 million, was once a troubled nation that suffered five coups and decades of stagnation, before turning a corner in the 1990s. It is now a pacesetter for the continent's efforts to become democratic.
The incumbent Mahama, a former vice president, was catapulted into office in July after the unexpected death of President John Atta Mills, an ascension that was itself praised as a democratic example, because the constitutional order of succession was swiftly applied by the government and unanimously accepted by the population. Before becoming vice president in 2009, the 54-year-old Mahama served as a government minister and a member of parliament.
Akufo-Addo is a former foreign minister and the son of one of Ghana's previous presidents.
Both candidates tried to make the case that they would use the nation's oil riches to help the poor. Besides being one of the few established democracies in the region, Ghana also has the fastest-growing economy. Oil was discovered in 2007 and the country began producing it in December 2010. But a deep divide still exists between those benefiting from the country's oil, cocoa and mineral wealth, and those left behind financially.