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Rumors of cocaine money taint Ghana vote

The West African nation's status as a drug-trafficking hub has led to allegations of political corruption ahead of Sunday's presidential vote.

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A member of parliament for the ruling center-right New Patriotic Party (NPP), Eric Amoateng, was jailed in the United States last year after being convicted of attempting to smuggle $6 million worth of heroin. Mr. Aning says that Mr. Amoateng is just one example of politicians whose wealth is questionable.

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"People are raising some very tough questions about how this little man from a very small town, who was a school teacher and totally broke, initially even won the party primaries and how his excessive wealth was never questioned by the people in his town or his party," says Aning.

In Amoateng's hometown he is still regarded by many as a generous philanthropist – where his fortune came from is unimportant. Aning says this shows that the threat of the drugs trade is not limited to government and its institutions. "These excessive funds are beginning to undermine our sense of community and our societal values," he warns.

In the run-up to this weekend's election, opposition activists have accused the NPP of using cocaine funds to fuel its campaign – allegations strenuously denied by party officials and its presidential candidate, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who has promised to crack down on the traffickers.

Yet the mud has stuck. "I cannot vote for Nana because he is taking that cocaine money," declares Francis Soja, a taxi driver in the capital who says he will vote for the opposition.

Sunday's vote – the fifth since multiparty democracy was established in 1992 – is expected to be close. President John Kufuor's chosen successor, Mr. Akufo-Addo, and his main opponent, Professor John Evans Atta Mills of the center-left National Democratic Convention, are running neck and neck.

Prof. Atta Mills has twice lost to Mr. Kufuor, but it has always been close. After both parties failed to win outright in the first round in 2000, the NPP won the run-off with 57 percent. And in 2000, its first-round victory was a narrow 52 percent. Analysts say there may have to be a second-round runoff vote before Christmas.

Whoever wins will inherit a country with an enviable reputation for democracy, where newly discovered oil reserves of up to 1.8 billion barrels could further boost the thriving economy. The first oil is expected to be pumped in 2010, bringing in billions in petrodollars. As Akufo-Addo said in a recent interview, "You're playing for probably more than one election.... You're playing for power for a generation."

There is a lot at stake, but Aning has no doubt where the new president's priorities must lie. "My argument is that we can only celebrate this election if the new government is bold enough to tackle the drugs crisis," he says. "That should be at the top of its agenda. I don't think the battle is lost, no, [but] we need concerted political will with the resources and the manpower. Then we can win the battle."

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