Ghanaians go to the polls on Monday in a contest that will revive old rivalries between incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo and his predecessor, John Mahama.
Ten other candidates, including three women, are vying for the nation’s top job, but the vote is essentially a fight between two foes who will be slugging it out for the third time.
More than 17 million people are registered to vote in the West African nation’s eighth consecutive poll since it returned to democracy nearly 30 years ago.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted but not stopped campaigning for the elections, which are for parliament as well as the presidency.
“There are party events and activity everywhere to drum up support, the airwaves are full of party songs, but we are not seeing mass rallies as usual,” Kojo Asante, director for advocacy and policy engagement at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, told AFP.
The presidential race is expected to be very close.
Independent polls have predicted a slim win for Akufo-Addo, while his New Patriotic Party (NPP) is expected to have a lower majority in the 275-member legislature.
In 2012, Mahama narrowly defeated Akufo-Addo with 50.7 percent of the vote and in 2016, Akufo-Addo beat Mahama with 53.8 percent.
Many Ghanaians are worried that “vigilantes” hired by parties and deployed to provide security for politicians could cause problems at polling stations.
Ghana has traditionally managed to contain post-electoral violence and have a peaceful transition of power — a rarity in much of West Africa.
Even so, there have been pre-election clashes and disagreements over the neutrality of the electoral commission, especially on the compilation of the new voters’ register.
“Tensions between the two main parties haven’t subsided and the stage is set for a potentially disputed outcome,” Sam Kwarkye, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies wrote in a report.
Asante is “cautiously optimistic” that the election will be peaceful, and welcomes the large pool of international and local election observers.
“Everybody wants the Ghana election to go well. We already have too many trouble spots in the region to deal with.”
The police say more than 62,000 personnel have been deployed.
On the streets of Accra on Friday, there was little of the usual widespread wearing of party T-shirts as a sign of political allegiance. Activists distributed handbills and flyers to commuters and from door to door.
Potentials voters said they hoped for a peaceful election.
“I’ll be voting and I’ve already made up my mind. It’s a matter of continuity for me,” trader Gloria Tsotso Afoley, a mother of three, told AFP.
Student Abigail Lomotey told AFP “we need change. Absolutely change. Corruption has been rife over the past four years.”
But 70-year-old retired Group Captain Francis Mensah said he would not vote because he could not “trust politicians anymore.”
A key exporter of cocoa, oil and gold, Ghana saw its economy severely hit by the pandemic.
Growth in the nation of 30 million people is expected to fall to 0.9 percent in 2020, the lowest in 30 years, according to the IMF, and a steep decline from 6.5 percent expansion in 2019.
Before Covid-19, the economy had already struggled with debt servicing, a weak currency and rising inflation.
Akufo-Addo has been given high marks for his handling of the pandemic and his record on education and on providing access to electricity.
But the 76-year-old has disappointed some in his performance on tackling graft — the key issue on which he was elected four years ago.
Despite this, corruption is a difficult issue for Mahama, 62, to latch onto, as he himself left office under a cloud of sleaze 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 and modernise the country.
Another bold move by Mahama was picking former education minister Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang as running mate, the first woman on the ticket of a major party.
Akufo-Addo, as expected, opted for continuity, with current Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia as running mate.
Results of the vote could be announced within 24 hours after the polls close.