ACCRA/KYEBI, Ghana (Reuters) – Ghanaians voted on Monday in what is expected to be a close race between President Nana Akufo-Addo and his main rival John Mahama, who are offering competing plans to end an economic crisis.
Eyes are on the West African powerhouse to see if it can keep its standing as a bastion of democracy in an unstable region where election disputes this year have fanned fears of a slide back into authoritarianism.
In the morning, a long line of voters stretched out of a polling station and down the road in the capital Accra’s Tema West district for the presidential and parliamentary poll.
Efua Opoku-Ware, 18, said she was voting “for a better leader who will address the unemployment situation and give hope to the youth for a better future,” without saying who she had picked.
There are 12 presidential candidates, but most voters are likely to choose between Akufo-Addo and his New Patriotic Party, and former president Mahama and his National Democratic Congress.
The parties have alternated in power since 1992 and this is the third straight election in which Akufo-Addo and Mahama have faced off.
Commentators say Akufo-Addo has a slight lead based on his performance during the pandemic, in which his administration provided free water and subsidised electricity to households.
Last year Ghana emerged from a three-year lending programme with the International Monetary Fund only for the pandemic to knock demand for its key exports of oil and cocoa. It is now suffering its first quarterly contraction in nearly 40 years.
If re-elected for a second four-year term, Akufo-Addo has promised to push ahead with a $17 billion recovery programme to boost jobs. Mahama’s keystone pledge is a $10 billion infrastructure plan.
The two sides agreed on Friday to resolve any electoral disputes in court, after fears that unofficial security groups hired by politicians could disrupt the vote.
Domestic election observers said voting in the morning was peaceful, and there were no reports of major disruptions.
“My expectation is that the work the government has done in these four years will find favour with the Ghanaian people today and that our mandate will be renewed,” Akufo-Addo said after voting in his eastern hometown of Kyebi.
Polls closed at 5 p.m. (1700 GMT) and, shortly after, counting began at the Ridge Church polling Station in Accra, a Reuters reporter said. The first results are expected on Tuesday or Wednesday.
(Writing by Alessandra Prentice and Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister, Raissa Kasolowsky, Catherine Evans and Andrew Heavens)