SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. People in Ghana are voting for a new president and parliament, and voting there has been extended to a second day because of glitches with the new electronic voter verification system. Ghana has gained an enviable reputation in its often turbulent West African neighborhood as being something of an oasis of stability - despite tensions in the build-up to the vote. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from the capital, Accra.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) This is for the peace song, it's a love song...
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The unofficial 2012 election campaign theme in Ghana was peace. Musicians from the local labor union composed special peace songs, like this one. Politicians seeking election or re-election publicly committed to peace.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) (Unintelligible) victory, we promise on Ghana that we'll never fight again, 'cause Ghana is a happy place...
BICE OSEI KOFFOUR: Ghana has been peaceful anytime we have elections, but violence has cropped up.
QUIST-ARCTON: Bice Osei Koffour heads Ghana's musicians' union.
KOFFOUR: So, you need to work on it constantly; keep reminding people about the need for tolerance, the need for peace.
QUIST-ARCTON: Ghana has five elections and two peaceful transfers of power under its belt since the end of military rule in 1992. President Obama has praised Ghana as a model of democracy in Africa because despite heightened tension, it stepped back from the brink in a very close presidential race in 2008. Over the past five years, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali and Guinea Bissau have tipped over the edge into conflict - just before or after elections.
ALBERTA ADZANI: My name is Alberta Adzani. Ghana has always been the icon of Africa, so I think leaders also count. If leaders are disciplined, peace is everywhere.
QUIST-ARCTON: Of eight candidates, the two frontrunners are Ghana's president of the past five months, John Dramani Mahama, who's 54, and 68-year-old opposition challenger Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. In July, then Vice President Mahama became president after the sudden death of Ghana's late leader. Mahama is often described as affable and has pledged to tackle corruption and build prosperity for Ghanaians.
PRESIDENT JOHN DRAMANI MAHAMA: Ghana is doing fine in Africa. Last year, among the ten top fastest-growing economies, six were African and Ghana was the top of the list. And one of the major things we should keep an eye on how we share the fruits of growth. But I do think that we have the possibility to make Ghana a shining star.
QUIST-ARCTON: Akufo-Addo, the main opposition candidate, is a seasoned lawyer and former foreign and justice minister. He suffered a narrow defeat in the presidential election four years ago. This time round, Akufo-Addo is promising to spend some of gold- and cocoa-exporting Ghana's new oil money on education, specifically free high school. The issue came to define the campaign.
NANA ADDO DANKWA AKUFO-ADDO: The biggest priority of our country, education, to prepare our population to be able to compete in a modern economy. The skepticism is being put forward by people who are themselves beneficiaries of free secondary education. Many of the major countries of the West have it. America has it.
QUIST-ARCTON: President Mahama's governing party argues that Ghana cannot afford universal free high school education just yet. But voters, like educationist Amy Fafa Awoonor, say it's important.
AMY FAFA AWOONOR: Yes, I voted for hope, for our youth, for the future of our youth. All the presidential candidates seem to be very interested in education. So, I'm really hoping that my vote surely counts.
QUIST-ARCTON: But Leslie Tetteh from the Education Campaign Coalition warns that politically driven educational policies have a record of failure in Ghana.
LESLIE TETTEH: We need to depoliticize the management of education. We don't normally see our truncated programs running their full terms for us to know what works and what does not work.
QUIST-ARCTON: Many voters consider progress a priority. Bustling Accra resembles a building site, with swanky new offices and residences. There's also a property boom in the oil capital, Sekondi-Takoradi, on Ghana's western coast. But most people live on less than four dollars a day. Matilda Anim-Fofie.
MATILDA ANIM-FOFIE: I voted based on some few issues - development, commitment. I want a leader who will dedicated and sincere to his promises.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) This is my motherland, maybe Ghana tiny...
QUIST-ARCTON: Plus, of course, peace. One candidate needs to wins the first round outright, with more than 50 percent of the vote, to avoid a presidential run-off in three weeks. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Accra. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.