Independent observers and civil society groups in Ghana say voter registration, the first major step towards landmark general elections in December, is being marred by violence and irregularities.
In the north of Ghana supporters of the two main political parties – the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) - vandalised registration centres on 2 August and gun shots were heard in Tamale, the capital of the northern region, during voter registration.
The Media Foundation for West Africa, a press-freedom monitoring group, warned that five journalists covering voter registration in Tamale were attacked by supporters from both parties.
One of the journalists, Alhassan Abdul Ganiuw Brigandi, with local newspaper The Independent, was filing a report on the registration of underage voters allegedly transported to the voting station by NDC supporters.
On 6 August, one person sustained serious knife wounds and two people were arrested by the police in another clash in the Volta Region of southeastern Ghana.
“I am not surprised at the acrimony; it’s definitely a crucial election, but the parties must first protect the peace,” said Kwesi Amakye, a political science lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, in Accra.
Ghanaians will vote on 7 December to elect a new president and members of parliament. The election is seen as a landmark because it is the first time in the country’s democratic history that a president who won power in democratic elections has served his constitutionally mandated two four-year terms and has to hand over the presidency.
Polls suggest the election will be close and is likely to go into a run-off.
Registering newly qualified voters who have just reached the voting age of 18 and adults who have never registered before is the first major step towards the elections.
Spokespeople for the NPP and NDC contacted by IRIN denied their supporters were involved in violence or illegal registration activities. Each accused the other of being responsible.
However, the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers, an elections watchdog, said in a statement issued on 4 August that the violence and irregularities have been “widespread”.
David Adanzee-Kangah, deputy chairman of Ghana’s Electoral Commission, the government body mandated to organise and facilitate elections, said the disturbances are “unprecedented” in Ghana’s recent political history.
Observers are concerned not just about the clashes but also the registration process itself.
“Our main concern is that political parties are sponsoring minors to go and register so they can vote illegally come election day,” said John Lavea, the Programme Coordinator at the Centre for Democratic Development, a member of the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers.
Lavea says the coalition has also had reports of non-Ghanaians from neighbouring countries being paid to cross the border to register so they can vote in the elections in December.
The police in the Volta Region of Ghana, which shares a border with Togo, have arrested two people suspected of registering Togolese in the ongoing voter registration exercise said Assistant Commissioner of Police, Kofi Adei-Akyeampong.
The registration exercise, which is scheduled to run for 10 days, has also suffered some administrative challenges as registration centres have received far more people than expected.
In some parts of Ghana, people have started queuing at midnight to be sure of getting into the registration centres the next days.
Adanzee-Kangah, Deputy Chairman of the Electoral Commission, said this is “an abnormal situation never before seen in the history of this exercise”.