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Ghana: Model Of Democracy?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we will hear from one of Africa's most prominent economists, who says that critics who think the developing nations are unreformable are wrong, and she offers lessons from her experience in Nigeria. That conversation is coming up later in the program.

But first, we turn to Ghana, also in West Africa. Elections there were held on Friday, and in a tight race, incumbent President John Dramani Mahama just won a new term with just over 50 percent of the vote.

Now, Ghana has long been viewed as a model of democracy in a troubled region. It was hoped that these elections would confirm that reputation, but opposition leaders are complaining that the election was essentially stolen.

Here to tell us more is Kojo Oppong Nkrumah. He is the host of the private radio station, Joy FM's Super Morning Show in Accra.

Thanks so much for joining us. Welcome.

KOJO OPPONG NKRUMAH: Hi, Michel, and hello to your listeners across the United States as well.

MARTIN: Let's just start up and just say that in advance of the voting, the incumbent was favored. The race was very tight. Now the opposition New Patriotic Party is complaining to the electoral commission. What were their specific objections?

NKRUMAH: The opposition New Patriotic Party has petitioned the electoral commission that it noticed some discrepancies between the actual voter numbers tallied at the polling stations and the final numbers that were announced, but here in Ghana there are avenues for directing such challenges and (unintelligible) indication from them that they would be resorting to some of those avenues to resolve their challenges.

MARTIN: Were there reports of difficulties during the voting or did the objections surface after the voting was completed?

NKRUMAH: Yes. There were challenges during the vote itself. We used a biometric verification system this time. About 18 percent, we are told, of the polling stations across the country had problems with their machines at some point, but those problems were addressed and, no, it wasn't during that time that the opposition had a problem with it. It was after the poll as the numbers were being tallied.

MARTIN: Has the opposition conceded defeat yet?

NKRUMAH: No. According to Ghana's laws, when the election is done, the chairman of the electoral commission declares a winner and issues a warrant to the chief justice to swear in that winner as president. So the first part has been done. The electoral commissioner has declared the incumbent president a winner. Indeed before the declaration, the opposition spoke to the press and mentioned that they were not too happy with the numbers and were even asking for a week before the numbers were declared.

Unfortunately, the numbers were finally declared, so they couldn't have their way then. They suggest they will be resorting to appropriate measures if they need to challenge the results.

MARTIN: What's the atmosphere in the country? I mean there was a heavy security presence around the electoral commission and around sort of party offices, but that doesn't strike me as unusual. I mean, we often increase the security presence in major federal buildings in this country around polling and Election Day and things of that sort, so...

NKRUMAH: That is exactly what it was. It was just, you know - just like how you find it anywhere. You would (unintelligible) security around. The (unintelligible) has been smooth so far and everything is (unintelligible) people are back to work this morning. Everybody's going about their business.

MARTIN: What were the issues heading into the election? I'm sort of backtracking a little bit here, I think you moderated the televised presidential debate, so what do you think the deciding factors were leading to the outcome?

NKRUMAH: I think (unintelligible) the key issues out of the elections were education, governments, corruption, natural resources, women empowerment, economic transformation and indeed all the candidates, about eight candidates run for this election, all of them spent a lot of time speaking to their policy agenda during the presidential debates and doing their own rallies to explain their positions.

The electorate, I imagine, you know, took a keen interest because there was a lot of voter interest and these cues started forming up the night before the poll. The voter turnout was about 79.1 percent, and I am very sure that these key issues and the way that the candidates spoke about them informed the heightened interest in the election.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, you know, there's been much talk in this country about whether our president recently - Barack Obama, recently reelected, has a mandate given that the Republicans continue to hold onto the House of Representatives, even though, you know, he won a decisive victory, according to, you know, American law under the electoral college. But the popular vote was narrower than, I think, perhaps his supporters would have liked.

So there's talk now about whether he has a mandate. Does President Dramani Mahana - if his victory is upheld, will the country perceive him as having a mandate to go forward with his agenda given how close the vote was?

NKRUMAH: (unintelligible) yes. They have different political views or they have different thoughts on a particular matter at a particular point in time, but once the proper processes have been gone through (unintelligible) always run behind the government and their leadership to build our country, and I'm pretty optimistic that whoever eventually is sworn in on the 7th of January will have a mandate supported by the people of Ghana.

MARTIN: Kojo Oppong Nkrumah is the host of Joy FM's Breakfast Show. He was kind enough to join us from Accra. That's the capital of Ghana. Reporting on the recent elections there.

Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, thank you so much for speaking with us.

NKRUMAH: Thank you very much, Michel, and wish you and your listeners all the best. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.