Ghanaians are voting in presidential and parliamentary elections, with the race for the top job, dubbed “the battle of two giants”, expected to be a close fight between incumbent Nana Akufo-Addo and longtime opponent John Mahama.
Nestled along the Gulf of Guinea, Ghana – long a beacon of democracy and stability in West Africa – has ensured peaceful transfers of power on seven occasions since it returned to democracy nearly 30 years ago.
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, 76, and Mahama, 62, signed a symbolic peace pact on Friday.
They are among 12 candidates, including three women, who are running.
“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.
Voters are casting their ballots for a new president and members of parliament for 275 constituencies between 7 am (06:00 GMT) and 5 pm (16:00 GMT) at 38,000 polling stations across the nation.
Key issues 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. There are other 10 contestants in the presidential election but the main race is expected to take place between these two.”
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.
‘Battle of two giants’
Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and Mahama of the National Democratic Congress party (NDC) have faced each other at the ballot box three times already.
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.