ACCRA (Reuters) – Ghanaians started voting in elections on Monday in which President Nana Akufo-Addo and his main rival, former president John Mahama, are each offering plans to help the economy rebound from its first quarterly contraction in nearly 40 years.
Eyes are on the West African economic powerhouse to see if it can maintain 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.
There are 12 presidential candidates, but most voters are likely to choose between Akufo-Addo and his New Patriotic Party, and Mahama’s National Democratic Congress, which have alternated in power since 1992. A new parliament will also be elected.
Last year Ghana emerged from a three-year lending programme with the International Monetary Fund only for the new coronavirus to knock demand for its key exports of oil and cocoa.
If re-elected for a second four-year term, Akufo-Addo is promising to push ahead with a $17 billion recovery programme to boost jobs, while Mahama’s keystone pledge is a $10 billion infrastructure plan.
A long line of voters stretched out of a polling station and down the road in Tema West district of the capital Accra.
First-time voter 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”, declining to say which candidate she had picked.
The race is expected to be tight, though 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.
“He has brought hope to many Ghanaians through his social interventions. It’s been a difficult year,” said 45-year-old businesswoman Evelyn Amey.
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.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. (0700 GMT) and close at 5 p.m. Results are expected no later than Dec. 10, but will likely come sooner.
(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Edward McAllister, Raissa Kasolowsky and Catherine Evans)