ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Ghanaians began lining up at polling stations before dawn on Wednesday to elect their next president as the West African nation hopes to reaffirm its reputation as a model of democracy on the continent.
Despite concerns about the credibility of the elections, voter enthusiasm has been high. The race is expected to be tight between incumbent President John Dramani Mahama and opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo.
"We need change in Ghana because things are very difficult," said Stephen Antwi Boasiako, a taxi driver in the capital, Accra, who said he can barely afford the taxes and insurance for his vehicle. "This country has a lot of resources that can provide good jobs, but they're not used. I blame the Mahama government 100 percent."
Mahama, of the National Democratic Congress, is seeking a second four-year term as Akufo-Addo, of the New Patriotic Party, makes his third and likely final run for the highest office in a nation of more than 28 million people. Candidates from four smaller parties are also on the ballot, including Ghana's first physically challenged contender and a former first lady.
Ghanaians also will elect members of parliament to serve in the country's 275 constituencies.
The elections are expected to be a referendum on the incumbent party's last eight years in power and its handling of the economy, which has been dogged by a decline in global commodity prices and perceived economic mismanagement and corruption. The opposition has exploited high unemployment levels and underperforming GDP growth rates in an effort to appeal to frustrated Ghanaians.
Mahama has defended his record, campaigning on plans to boost economic growth and continue modest gains in infrastructure development. A change in government, he says, would reverse the progress made during the last four years.
Harrison Dogbe, a Mahama supporter, said the current government needs another four years to consolidate gains.
"The sitting president is doing well but he needs the support to continue with his good work," said Dogbe, 29-year-old architect in Accra. "He's done well with our infrastructure, school buildings, hospitals, roads and many other things."
During early voting on Dec. 1, thousands of names were missing from voting lists, sparking renewed concerns over the preparedness of the electoral commission. Although the commission reassured the public it was doing everything in its power to rectify the problems, many Ghanaians still remained skeptical as they waited in line to vote.
Samuel Marcells, a pastor, said the commission has to hold near-perfect elections to regain his trust. During the campaign, 13 presidential aspirants were disqualified for not filling out their nomination forms properly. Although the candidates were given an opportunity to revise their forms, many voters questioned the commission's motives.
"If you create the atmosphere of suspicion, I cannot trust you," Marcells told The Associated Press after voting in the upscale Accra neighborhood of Cantonments. "There are still a lot of questions."
To ensure the vote is free and fair, thousands of domestic and foreign election observers have been deployed at the nearly 29,000 polling stations across the country.