Ghanaians have voted in presidential and parliamentary elections, with the race for the top job expected to be a close fight between incumbent Nana Akufo-Addo and his predecessor and longtime opponent, John Mahama.
Voters on Monday queued up at polling stations from the crack of dawn to select a president among 12 candidates and members of parliament for 275 constituencies. Key issues concerning the electorate include unemployment, infrastructure, education and health.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from the capital, Accra, said security was tight in many polling stations amid measures against COVID-19.
“The incumbent president is fighting his biggest political battle in this election against the man he replaced four years ago in a closely contested election,” he said.
“Now, Akufo-Addo is trying to convince Ghanaians he is still the man for the job while opponent Mahama says he can perform better.”
As polling stations closed at 17:00 GMT, raucous crowds filld the streets of the historic Jamestown area of Accra.
Crowds cheered and chanted “four more years!” as Akufo-Addo, of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), cast his vote in the eastern town of Kyebi.
“I’m feeling fine, happy that the process is going well and peacefully,” the 76-year-old Akufo-Addo said.
Mahama, 62, of the National Democratic Congress party (NDC), was less gushing. “It’s too early to make an assessment, but I understand there have been a few hitches,” he said after casting his vote.
A few polling stations opened late but no major incidents were recorded by election observers across the 38,000 polling stations.
“We call on all our agents and all Ghanaians to stay alert. When voting is done and counting begins, go to the polling station and monitor the counting,” the opposition NDC’s Elvis Afriyie Ankrah told a news conference in Accra.
Ghana has ensured peaceful transfers of power on seven occasions its step towards multiparty democracy in 1992.
The two main parties have always accepted electoral outcomes and pursued any grievances through the courts.
To ensure its continued tradition of peaceful polls, Akufo-Addo and Mahama signed a symbolic peace pact on Friday.
“In view of the happenings on the continent, and, indeed in West Africa, the entire world is looking up to us to maintain our status as a beacon of democracy, peace and stability,” Akufo-Addo said in a televised address on Sunday evening.
Ghana has made giant strides over the past two decades, becoming the world’s second-largest cocoa-producing country, but many still live in extreme poverty with scarce access to clean water or electricity.
Hit hard by the pandemic, growth in the nation of 30 million people is expected to fall to 0.9 percent this year according to the International Monetary Fund, its lowest in 30 years and a steep decline from 6.5 percent growth in 2019.
Akufo-Addo and Mahama have faced each other at the ballot box twice before. Mahama was president for four years until 2016, when his rival succeeded him.
The incumbent has been given high marks for his handling of the pandemic and his record on free education and improving access to electricity.
But he has disappointed some in his performance on tackling corruption – the key issue on which he was elected four years ago.
Despite this, corruption is a difficult issue for Mahama to latch on to, as he himself left office under a cloud of corruption allegations.
Mahama has also been criticised for poor economic decisions and racking up unsustainable debts.
But the skilled communicator has brushed aside the criticism, making ambitious promises to build infrastructure, create jobs and modernise the country.
A bold move by Mahama was picking former education minister Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang as running mate, the first woman on the ticket of a large party.