ACCRA/KYEBI, Ghana (Reuters) – Ghanaians cast their votes 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 the unstable region where election disputes this year have fanned fears of a slide back into authoritarianism.
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 New Patriotic Party, and former president Mahama and his National Democratic Congress. The parties have alternated in power since 1992.
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.
Voting appeared to be going smoothly by Monday afternoon with no reports of significant 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 close at 5 p.m. Results are expected no later than Dec. 10, but will likely come sooner.