Voting began yesterday in a remote farming region of Ghana in an election that will determine the outcome of the presidential vote of a country seen as a model of democracy in west Africa. Polling stations in the region bordering Ivory Coast were set to close at 5pm, despite a move by Ghana’s ruling New Patriotic Front (NPP) party to stop the election from taking place in Tain.
The NPP, which lost control of parliament in an election last month, had tried to have yesterday’s voting in Tain postponed for security reasons and said on Thursday it would not take part in the vote.
An AFP photographer said agents of the ruling party were absent from polling stations.
Tain, which measures the equivalent of just 65km up and across, is the last of Ghana’s 230 constituencies to vote.
Problems with distributing ballot papers had halted Tain’s participation in a runoff poll on Sunday.
Partial election results from 229 constituencies have shown opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate John Atta-Mills holding a thin lead of around 23,000 votes over ruling party rival Nana Akufo-Addo.
Akufo-Addo won the first round of voting on Dec. 7, but not with enough votes to make him the outright winner.
On Thursday, the ruling party had sought an injunction to stop the electoral commission from announcing poll results before investigating what the NPP alleged were irregularities in Sunday’s vote in an opposition stronghold.
It then also sought a court order to prevent the election from taking place in Tain yesterday.
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 next year.
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.
“I want to vote so that we can end this tussle,” pensioner Kwadwo Adjei said as he waited to vote at a health center in Nkawkaw.
Around 50 people lined up patiently while electoral officials prepared voting materials, but there was no representative from Akufo-Addo’s NPP.
With just over 23,000 votes separating the two main candidates after ballots were counted from Ghana’s 229 other constituencies, Tain’s 53,000 electors will decide the outcome, thrusting the sleepy farming area into the political limelight.
Hundreds of soldiers and armed police have been deployed in Tain to ensure calm during the election, but witnesses and observers said the situation appeared calm yesterday.
Mills led in Tain in an inconclusive first round on Dec. 7, meaning Akufo-Addo would require a landslide swing in voter loyalties there to win the national vote.
It was unclear when an official result would be declared.