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Ghana extends voting in some areas after glitches, delays

Thousands converged on Ghana's capital as the country's two main political parties held final rallies ahead of Friday's election.

Story highlights

  • The incumbent president is facing off with the son of a former leader
  • He is one of eight presidential contenders
  • A winner is expected to be declared within days
  • Hundreds of candidates are also vying for 275 parliamentary seats

Ghana extended voting into a second day Saturday in areas where election materials arrived late or glitches with a new biometric identification system caused delays.

There were reported cases of biometric machines malfunctioning or failing to recognize voters' fingerprints in the pivotal presidential and parliamentary election, officials said.

In areas where voting was not affected, counting was under way. It was not immediately clear how many of the total 26,000 polling stations experienced glitches.

Citizens of the West African nation started voting Friday in a general election that pits the incumbent against the son of a former president in one of Africa's most stable democracies.

In addition to the presidential election, hundreds of candidates vied for 275 parliamentary seats.

Incumbent leader John Dramani Mahama, a former vice president who took over after his predecessor died this year, is one of eight contenders vying for the top position.

    Opinion: What Ghana can teach the rest of Africa about democracy

    The pool of candidates includes opposition frontrunner Nana Akufo-Addo, the son of a former president.

    If no presidential candidate wins a majority in the first round, a runoff will be held later this month.

    Election fever was high Friday, with lines snaking around polling stations.

    "People started lining up at 5 p.m. and spent the night at the polling stations," said Delalorm Sesi Semabia, 25, an oil company employee who lives in the capital, Accra.

    "People are enthusiastic," he said. "This particular election is significant because candidates had debates on air and people heard their thoughts on issues. It made a huge difference, it created more passion."

    Semabia said a lot of young voters were born in the post-coup times, and want the democracy trajectory to continue.

    "We have a passion for our country because we only have one Ghana," he said. "We don't think of elections as an end-all game. We think of it as an opportunity to progress."

    The electoral commission initially said it expected to declare the winner within 72 hours after polls close Friday. It was not clear whether the voting extension would delay that announcement.

    Passions are running high, and the president urged candidates to ensure that their supporters avoid incitement.

    "Ghana has organized five previous successful elections, and there should not be any reason why this year's election should not be successful," the president said in a statement.

    The nation is one of Africa's fastest-growing economies. It is the world's second-largest cocoa producer after Ivory Coast and the continent's biggest gold miner after South Africa, according to the United Nations.

    International leaders hail Ghana as a success story in a region beleaguered with civil wars and coups, with U.S. President Barack Obama visiting in 2009 in his first presidential trip to Sub-Saharan Africa.

    At the time, Obama bypassed his father's native Kenya and opted for Ghana, describing it as a model of peace and democracy in the continent.

    "There's sometimes a tendency to focus on the challenges that exist in Africa," Obama said this year. "But I think it's important for us to also focus on the good news that's coming out of Africa, and I think Ghana continues to be a good-news story."

    But critics say that despite the rich resources that bring billions of dollars annually, the wealth is not trickling down to the rural poor who live on the land where the gold is mined.

    Ghana was among the first African countries to gain independence from the British, breaking loose in 1957. It endured a series of coups before Lt. Jerry Rawlings took power in 1981. A decade later, it transitioned to a stable democracy with multiparty elections.

    Unlike its neighbors, including Ivory Coast, Ghana has held successful elections and power transfers since 1992 without descending into bloody chaos.

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