- Title: Ghana president holds final rally ahead of December 7 poll
- Date: 5th December 2016
- Summary: SUPPORTERS LISTENING TO SPEECH
- Embargoed: 20th December 2016 23:21
- Keywords: Accra Ghana election Nana Akufo-Addo John Mahama Kasoa
- Location: ACCRA AND KASOA, GHANA
- City: ACCRA AND KASOA, GHANA
- Country: Ghana
- Reuters ID: LVA0045BLZYVB
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Ghana's President John Mahama on Monday (December 5) promised to continue investing in the country's infrastructure in a bid to rally votes ahead of a December 7 poll where he is seeking a second four-year term in office.
Ghanaians will vote on Wednesday (December 7) in what is expected to be a close race between him and main opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo. Voters will also be choosing members of parliament for 275 constituencies.
Mahama arrived at the final rally of his presidential campaign in the capital Accra accompanied by his wife Rebecca Mahama and other ruling National Democratic Party (NDC) leaders who joined him on stage as thousands of supporters cheered in the crowd.
"I will just say over the four years, we have managed to stabilise our economy, we have resolved our power challenges, and we have significantly improved our social and economic infrastructure. I intend in my next opportunity to serve by the will of God and the Ghanaian people, to focus on continuing the investments that we have made in improving our infrastructure and bringing our infrastructure up to middle-income status. I also intend to focus on livelihoods and empowerment for the Ghanaian and growing the Ghanaian private sector," said Mahama.
Ghana, which exports cocoa, gold and oil is currently following a three-year aid deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to restore economic balance to an economy dogged by public debt, deficits and high interest rates.
"With the construction of the circle interchange, it created over thousands of jobs. With the construction of the ridge hospital, it created thousands of jobs to the people, and I think that when people are talking about joblessness, people must identify themselves with the things that we are doing. People must see that... Ghanaians are going to vote for Mahama," supporter Gideon Hammon said, while Mahama fans behind him held up three fingers - the incumbent's official ballot box number.
Mahama, who has been showcasing scores of infrastructure projects as proof of development in his last four years, has said he needs a second term to consolidate the gains and create jobs.
Mahama has barnstormed the country since campaigning for this week's general election began, cutting the ribbon on bridges, highways, hospitals, schools and even a new stock exchange.
His bet is that impressing voters with fresh infrastructure will offset voter unhappiness in an economy that has slowed since he took power in 2012.
The strategy may work but voters in Ghana, which is one of Africa's most stable democracies, have twice ejected the government of the day from power since 2000 and Mahama only narrowly beat Akufo-Addo in 2012.
The few opinion polls and academic studies of voter intentions to emerge during the campaign have been split between the opposition's New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the NDC.
The USD $160-million Kasoa overpass project is a model of the NDC strategy. The town sits west of the capital on the coastal highway linking Nigeria and Ivory Coast, and for decades it has been a traffic blackspot.
Mahama opened the towering overpass before cheering crowds in the culmination of a years-long building project. But the town faces similar economic problems to the rest of the country and opinion among onlookers was mixed.
Cecilia Eshun, 36, who sells tomatoes at the nearby market, said the road was not enough to switch her vote.
"This (flyover construction) will not change my mind because every eight years we change the party in power so that there will be a change. Now, we cannot even pay school fees. Currently, my child is in the secondary school - I have fees," Cecilia said.
Meanwhile Alhajiaj Nafisatu, a trader in the same market, said she would be voting for the incumbent.
"The bridge the government has made, it's very nice and it's good for us. So that's why I will vote for JM," Nafisatu said, referring to John Mahama by his initials.
Fresh infrastructure can work magic with voters who see a new local school, hospital or road as a blessing from the president rather than the normal government allocation of taxpayer money, according to community leaders.
Government ministers insist the spending does not threaten the budget, which is crucial given that the country is mid-way through a USD $918 million IMF aid programme.
The programme aims to stabilise the currency, reduce the budget deficit and public debt and lower inflation, which stood at 15.2 percent in October.
Many economists have unhappy memories of the last election year when spending on civil service wages pushed the budget deficit to twice the government's target, triggering a fiscal crisis that is taking years to recover from.
Ghana is likely to miss its target of reducing the 2016 budget deficit to 5.3 percent but only by a percentage point or so and that is not enough to revive fears of a repeat of 2012, economists say.
The problem is partly due to the fact that revenue collection has fallen short of expectations and also because the target may have been optimistic, according to analysts.
"The concerns for the country broadly have been public debt, public debt sustainability, efficient borrowing. The concern has been on the back of the energy crises, disruption to the real sector, the complaints again have been of course policy, the policy dilemma and then how effectively we've been able to tame currency stability over the past four years," said economist Samson Akligoh.
The opposition says people have suffered due to corruption and government mismanagement of the economy and in particular the windfall caused by the start of oil production in 2010, which added to wealth created by exports of gold and cocoa.
Akufo-Addo, 72, has promised to set up a factory in each of the 110 districts and give every constituency the equivalent of USD $1 million a year if his party wins power, saying he has the credentials to quickly turn the economy around and is not looking to amass personal wealth.
On Sunday (December 4) in Accra, he told supporters at a rally ahead of Election Day that Mahama's government has mismanaged the economy and unleashed hardship on the people, adding that retaining it would constitute a threat to the nation's future.
"Today, this year, we're going to have the lowest rate of growth in our history, in the last 22 years, under the watch of Mahama, and he's saying with these statistics, that we should give him another chance, another four years. Are we going to give him another four years? We are not going to give him another four years. He is a threat to the future of our country," Akufo-Addo told supporters.
Mahama has said economic growth would rebound to above eight percent from a projected 4.1 percent this year as new offshore oil supplies come on stream.
Wednesday's vote will be the sixth consecutive democratic election since former military ruler Jerry Rawlings introduced multiparty politics in 1992.
Mahama said he was hopeful the election would pass off peacefully.
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