A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in stronghold of presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) in Kibi, December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Ghanaians vote as incumbent President Mahama seeks a final term

Ghanaians are voting on Wednesday in what looks set to be a tight race as President John Mahama seeks a second and final term.

Ghana is a beacon of democracy in West Africa with a history of peaceful elections. The government of the day has lost power twice since 2000.

Some 15.7 million people are registered to vote and election officials say turnout could reach a record 80 percent. Some voters queued overnight to cast their ballots.

There are 275 parliamentary seats being contested. Seven people are vying for the presidency, and a second round will follow if no one wins a majority.

Ghana uses a biometric voting system, and has multiple voting lists but there are few signs of major logistical problems.

Lower global prices for Ghana’s gold, oil and cocoa exports and a fiscal crisis caused the slowdown and it has made Mahama’s government vulnerable to the challenge from the main opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo.

His New Patriotic Party says the government has mismanaged national finances, not least revenue from oil from an offshore field operated by British company Tullow that began to flow in 2010.

The government says it has improved infrastructure and urges voters to stick with it despite tough economic times. It says growth will return to above 8 percent in 2017 as new oil and gas from Tullow and ENI fields comes on stream.

Akufo-Addo, a former foreign minister, voted in his home town of Kibi in the Eastern region surrounded by supporters. “It is my hope and my prayer for victory for myself and my party,” he said, adding he was satisfied with voting so far.

For years, Ghana was one of Africa’s most dynamic economies and a hot investment destination but it hit the buffers in 2014 due to the commodities slump and a fiscal crisis that featured a spike in the budget deficit and elevated inflation. The government is following a $918 million International Monetary Fund program to restore fiscal balance.

Most analysts predict a close race for the presidency and there have been few polls.

Daily Dispatch newspaper pollster Ben Ephson forecast that Mahama would win with 52 percent.

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