Ghana farming region set to decide election

About 50 000 Ghanaians in a remote farming region were set to cast ballots on Friday in a knife-edge election to decide the next leader of the country seen as an example of democracy in volatile West Africa.

Election official said late on Thursday the vote would go ahead as they had not been served with court papers to halt it, as the ruling the New Patriotic Front (NPP) party said it had obtained.

Tain, a farming region measuring the equivalent of just 65km up and across, is the last of 230 constituencies nationwide to vote, after problems with distributing ballot papers halted participation in Sunday’s runoff poll.

The western pocket of land holds just about 53 000 eligible voters — whereas partial results have shown opposition candidate John Atta-Mills holding a thin lead of around 23 votes over his ruling party rival Nana Akufo-Addo.

Akufo-Addo won the first round of voting on December 7, but not with enough votes to make him the outright winner.

Polling stations in the region bordering Côte d’Ivoire were set to open at 7am GMT and close at 5pm GMT.

The decisive runoff started to look less certain on Thursday when the ruling party went twice to court in a bid to stop first the final election results being announced and then the Tain election taking place.

First the NPP sought to bar the electoral commission from declaring the results of Tain until NPP’s charges of irregularities in an opposition stronghold were probed. But the court said it would hear the case on Monday, two days after the election was to have been held.

NPP later returned with a fresh petition seeking to have the election delayed on the grounds that the conditions in Tain were not conducive to a free and fair poll.

The ruling party said the court ruled in its favour, but Electoral Commission Chairman Kwadwo Afari-Gyan insisted late on Thursday he was unaware of any such ruling and insisted voting would go ahead as planned.

Stakes have been high in the race to choose the man who will be governing the former British colony, known as the Gold Coast before independence in 1957, when it starts pumping oil in 2010.

The election has been the country’s fifth since the return to multi-party democracy in 1992 — to succeed John Kufuor, one of Africa’s most respected leaders who has to stand down after two terms.

International bodies who have deployed observer missions to monitor the Tain elections include the European Union and the West African grouping the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). – AFP

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