Ghana has been described as a model of democracy for African countries.
Ghanaians will on Friday choose who will run one of Africa’s most stable democracies as a surge in oil revenues promises to boost development and economic growth.
Ghana has earned a reputation as an oasis of stability and progress in West Africa, a part of the world better known for civil wars, coups, entrenched poverty and corruption.
“These elections are important not just to Ghana, but for the growing number of states and actors seeking to benefit from increasing confidence in Africa,’’ Alex Vines, Africa Research Director at Chatham House, said.
Incumbent leader, John Mahama, who replaced the late John Atta Mills after his death from an illness in July will face main opposition candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, of the New Patriotic Party, and six others.
Opinion polls point to a tight race between the two main candidates, raising the prospect of a repeat of the near deadlock in 2008 elections, in which Mr. Mills defeated Mr. Akufo-Addo with a margin of less than one per cent.
“We know it will be close, but the important thing is that Ghanaians will accept the results,’’ John Mark, a shuttle bus driver in the sprawling capital Accra said. “We must preserve our peace.”
U.S. President, Barack Obama, has called Ghana a “model of democracy in Africa’’ for stepping back from the brink during the tight 2008 polls, when other countries in the region might have tipped into conflict.
Cote d’Ivoire erupted into civil war last year after disputed elections in 2010, and other regional neighbours Mali and Guinea Bissau have been thrown into chaos by military coups.
“In all this, let us remember that Ghana is bigger and more important than any of us,’’ Mr. Mahama said late on Thursday in a radio address ahead of the poll.
“The surest way to sustain and enhance our enviable image is to go to the polls tomorrow in an atmosphere of peace,” he added.
Mr. Akufo-Addo, a trained lawyer and son of a former Ghanaian president has criticised the ruling party for the slow pace of job creation and fighting poverty, and says he would use the expected uptick in oil wealth to pay for free primary and secondary education.
Mr. Mahama, meanwhile, says his party’s investments in infrastructure will bring increased prosperity over time. He said he aims to put Ghana on the path to a per capita annual income of 2,300 dollars by 2017 – double that in 2009.
But in a country where campaign messages rarely influence voting choices, many believe more than half of the 14 million voters will cast their ballot based on ethnic and social affiliation, or regionalism.
Mr. Mahama is from the north, where he finds his strongest support, and Mr. Akufo-Addo, well-liked by fellow Ashanti people and favoured in Ghana’s second-city, Kumasi, is from the east.
On Friday, voters will also elect 275 legislators.
There are 45 more seats in parliament than during the 2008 election, in which Mr. Mahama’s National Democratic Congress won a small majority.