Voting went smoothly on Friday in many areas, but a new biometric system requiring electronic fingerprints from voters suffered a number of breakdowns in certain districts, resulting in long lines and much frustration.
Voting materials also arrived late in some areas, causing some polling stations to open far behind schedule.
President John Dramani Mahama is vying for a first elected term against main opposition candidate Nana Akufo-Addo in a nation reaping the benefits of a booming economy fuelled in part by a new and expanding oil industry.
The results are expected to be close in a country that has been seeking to live up to its reputation as an example of stable democracy in turbulent West Africa. Voters are also electing a 275-seat parliament.
An electoral commission statement said the directive extending voting into Saturday applied to polling stations where the biometric system had broken down or where the necessary materials arrived especially late.
It was not clear how many polling stations were affected in the country of about 24 million people, including around 14 million registered voters.
“We are talking about isolated instances,” electoral commission chief Kwado Afari-Gyan said. “It is not a mass problem.”
Spokespersons for the two main political parties expressed support for the commission, however some voters still in line on Friday night reacted angrily.
The announcement came with counting already underway in districts where voting was completed.
Results from the elections had been expected as early as Sunday, but it was unclear whether that timeframe would remain after the extension.
There are a total of eight presidential candidates, which could result in a second round runoff vote on 28 December.
Hours of waiting
Long lines formed in many areas on Friday and a number of voters had waited all night to be able to cast ballots on Friday morning.
Mahama, after voting in the country’s northern region, addressed the late start in some areas, saying he had been informed “that the problems have been resolved”.
“This year’s elections will go down in history as the best ever to be held in Ghana,” he said.
Akufo-Addo voted in the country’s eastern region and expressed hope that the polls would remain peaceful.
In the Jamestown area of the capital Accra, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods with faded colonial architecture and congested streets, voters grew angry, after waiting in line hours, and shouted at authorities.
Vida Armah, a 19-year-old student, said she waited more than seven hours to cast her ballot. Asked what would happen if people were not allowed to vote, she said “there will be a war”.
Ghana has had five elections since military rule ended in 1992, but the stakes are seen as higher than ever this time, as commercial oil production that began in 2010 is set to expand.
Mahama, aged 54, of the National Democratic Congress, only took power in July, when his predecessor John Atta Mills died following an illness.
The 68-year-old Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party, the son of a former president, lost by less than one percentage point in 2008.
Elections since a return to civilian rule in 1992 have seen both parties voted out of office, establishing Ghana’s democratic credentials in a region that has seen its share of rigged polls and coups.
Ghana is also a top exporter of cocoa and gold, with economic growth of 14% in 2011. Eight percent growth is expected for 2012 and 2013.
How to spend Ghana’s oil money has been a key issue. Mahama has advocated a large investment in infrastructure, while Akufo-Addo has promoted his signature policy of free secondary education.- AFP