Ghana court hears final arguments in tense vote challenge

Ghana's supreme court heard final arguments on Wednesday over whether it should overturn the results of 2012 presidential polls due to irregularities, in a case that has transfixed the west African nation.

The country's largest opposition party, the New Patriotic Party, is challenging President John Dramani Mahama's win last December, saying the vote was marred by irregularities and that their candidate Nana Akufo-Addo was the true winner.

"These constitutional violations, malpractices and vulgarities have a material effect on the results," Philip Addison, attorney for the NPP, told the court in closing arguments.

Presiding justice William Atuguba announced that the court would have a final hearing on August 14, then adjourn for a maximum of 15 days to deliberate before announcing its verdict. Hearings in the case began in April.

If the court agrees with the NPP, it could order the country's election commission to reverse Mahama's election victory, posing an extraordinary test for Ghana's democracy.

Mahama was elected with 50.7 percent of the vote in the December election, which international observers said was free and fair.

But the NPP cried foul, saying the election was handled improperly, and vowed to challenge the outcome in court.

Since its filing, the NPP's case has gripped Ghana, a nation of 25 million that is considered one of the most resilient democracies in turbulent west Africa.

Three attorneys representing Mahama, Ghana's electoral commission and the ruling National Democratic Congress also gave closing statements at the supreme court in the capital Accra.

Tony Lithur, Mahama's attorney, said the NPP had not brought enough evidence to support its arguments.

The bulk of the NPP's evidence consisted of "pink sheets", which were used to report the results from polling stations around the country.

The NPP claims these sheets show a raft of improprieties, like ballot box-stuffing and voting by people who were not verified through a biometric system that was used for the first time in the December election.

But Lithur said the NPP had failed to tie the evidence on the pink sheets to any particular incident or malpractice.

"They haven't brought before us a single polling agent or affidavit or evidence that nothing or something happened at a certain polling station," Lithur told the nine judges hearing the case.

"President Mahama won the election, he won it fair and square, and I respectfully ask your lordships to declare for him."

Elections since a return to civilian rule in 1992 have seen both major parties voted out of office, establishing Ghana's democratic credentials in a region that has had its share of rigged polls and coups.

Stakes in the 2012 election were especially high, with a booming economy fueled in part by a new and expanding oil industry.