VICTORY CELEBRATION: Supporters of John Dramani Mahama and the National Democratic Congress take to the streets of Accra to celebrate the success of their candidate in Ghana’s presidential election. Picture: REUTERS
VICTORY CELEBRATION: Supporters of John Dramani Mahama and the National Democratic Congress take to the streets of Accra to celebrate the success of their candidate in Ghana’s presidential election. Picture: REUTERS

ACCRA — John Dramani Mahama has won a new term as president in Ghana in an election the opposition claimed was marred by tampering, the West African state’s electoral authorities said on Sunday.

Mr Mahama, who replaced former president John Atta Mills after his death in July, took 50.7% of the ballots cast — just enough to avoid a run-off with his chief rival, Nana Akufo-Addo.

"Based on the results, I declare President John Dramani Mahama president-elect," Ghana Electoral Commission president Kwadwo Afari-Gyan told a news conference in the capital, Accra.

In a brief speech at his residence following the results, an exhausted-looking Mr Mahama said his win was a "victory for all Ghanaians", and urged the leaders of rival parties to "respect the voice of the people".

Supporters of Mr Mahama drove through the streets of the sprawling seaside capital playing loud music, shouting and honking their horns after the results.

The election is seen as a test of whether Ghana can maintain more than 30 years of stability and progress in a region better known for coups, civil wars and corruption.

A cliffhanger election in 2008, in which Mr Akufo-Addo lost by less than 1%, pushed the country to the brink of chaos, with disputes over results driving hundreds of people into the streets with clubs and machetes.

This year’s election was fraught with delays after hundreds of newly introduced electronic fingerprint readers — used to identify voters — failed on Friday and forced some polling stations to reopen on Saturday to clear the backlog.

Security forces used tear gas to disperse hundreds of supporters of Mr Akufo-Addo’s New Patriotic Party (NPP) protesting in front of the electoral commission building shortly before the results were declared.

NPP chairman Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey said earlier in the day that he had evidence of electoral workers conspiring to rig tallies, and the party had asked the electoral commission for an audit before full results were released.

Mr Mahama has vowed to use rising oil revenue in Ghana, which started oil production in late 2010, to jump-start development, create jobs and combat poverty.

Mr Akufo-Addo, a British-trained lawyer, had criticised the ruling party for failing to root out government graft and promised to provide free primary and secondary school education.

But in a country where campaign messages rarely influence voting choices, many believe most of Ghana’s 14-million voters cast their ballots based on ethnic, social or regional ties.

Ghanaians are also electing a parliament, in which Mr Mahama’s party has enjoyed a slim majority. Results were not yet available for those races.

An oil-driven economic boom has brought more wealth to the country, but also fears that it could suffer the graft and turmoil that often plagues energy-rich developing nations.

Troubled polls

An NPP official was not immediately available to comment on the results but observers said an official dispute was likely, raising fear of street unrest in the usually tranquil nation.

Ghanaian television stations aired long infomercials on Sunday, between election updates, showing clips of wars that have erupted in neighbouring countries interspersed with testimonials from Ghanaians about the importance of maintaining peace.

"This election has been hard but we must remember Ghanaians are one and we must love each other and remain peaceful," said Wellington Dadzie, 69, a former soldier who lives on the outskirts of Accra, before the results.

Ghanaian authorities deployed about 41,000 police and soldiers to secure the election process.

Ghana has had five peaceful and constitutional transfers of power since its last coup in 1981. Its residents like to say "Ghana in peace, not in pieces".

Neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire tipped into civil war in 2011 after a disputed 2010 poll, and regional neighbours Mali and Guinea-Bissau have both suffered coups this year.

Oil production in Ghana — which is also a big cocoa and gold producer — started two years ago and oil field operator Tullow Oil says it expects to boost output further in 2013.

"These elections are important not just to Ghana but for the growing number of states and actors seeking to benefit from increasing confidence in Africa," said Alex Vines, Africa research director at think-tank Chatham House.