Election farce: Ghana is the new Zimbabwe, albeit without murders and abductions

NSAWKAW, Ghana (Reuters) – Voting opened on Friday in the final constituency in Ghana's presidential run-off despite a boycott by the ruling party, which is trailing narrowly in the election and tried to have the ballot postponed.

Electors began casting ballots shortly after the scheduled 0700 GMT start at a polling station in Nsawkaw, the main town of Tain district, which was unable to vote in last Sunday’s nationwide run-off due to polling problems.

Foreign-trained lawyers John Atta Mills and Nana Akufo-Addo are vying to succeed President John Kufuor as the West African country prepares to start pumping oil in 2010. Sunday’s run-off was so close that Tain’s votes will decide the outcome.

Opposition leader Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), leads with 50.13 percent of votes, ahead of Akufo-Addo, of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), on 49.87 percent.

The NPP, which lost control of parliament in an election last month but continues to govern until Kufuor steps down on January 7, had tried to have voting in Tain postponed for security reasons and said on Thursday it would not take part in the vote.

"I want to vote so that we can end this tussle," pensioner Kwadwo Adjei said as he waited to vote at a health centre in Nsawkaw.

Around 50 people queued patiently while electoral officials prepared voting materials. A representative from Mills’s NDC party was present, but there was no representative from Akufo-Addo’s NPP.

Problems with last Sunday’s presidential run-off ballot meant voting failed to take place in the rural constituency of Tain, in the cocoa-producing region of Brong Ahafo.

Ghana is the world’s No. 2 cocoa grower after neighbouring Ivory Coast and is Africa’s second biggest gold producer.

KNIFE-EDGE ELECTION

With just over 23,000 votes separating the two main candidates after ballots were counted from Ghana’s 229 other constituencies, the 53,000 electors in the normally sleepy farming area will decide the outcome.

Hundreds of soldiers and armed police have been deployed in Tain to ensure calm during the election, searching vehicles entering Nsawkaw for weapons.

Each party has accused the other’s supporters of violence and irregularities during Sunday’s ballot, threatening to mar a poll seen as a chance to bolster Africa’s battered democratic credentials after flawed and bloody elections in Zimbabwe and Kenya.

Witnesses and observers said Tain district was calm on Friday. Voting at the 100 or so polling stations is scheduled to close at 1700 GMT and counting will begin straightaway, although it is unclear when an official result will be declared.

NPP officials applied on Thursday for a court order to prevent the Electoral Commission from publishing any more results, but the case was adjourned until next week, when the result will likely be known.

Analysts say Mills is favourite to win Friday’s ballot and the presidency after his NDC party overturned an NPP majority in parliament in a simultaneous legislative election.

Mills led in Tain in an inconclusive first round on December 7, meaning Akufo-Addo would require a landslide swing in voters’ loyalties there to win the national vote.