Polls officially opened on Monday in Ghana’s presidential and parliamentary elections under strict COVID-19 protocols.
Long queues formed at the polling stations long before voting began at 0700 GMT. Some 17 million voters are on the register to cast their ballots.
Voting will end at 1700 GMT and counting will be at the polling stations. The Electoral Commission says it will declare the results in 24 hours although the law gives it 72 hours.
Voters will choose a new president and 275 parliamentarians. There are 12 presidential candidates although only the incumbent, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), and former President John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress have any real chance of winning. There are 914 parliamentary candidates.
At polling stations across the nation, lines had already formed before polls opened at 7 a.m. local time.
There are more than 17 million registered voters this year, with more than 33,000 polling stations.
A pre-election survey from the Ghana Center for Democratic Development found voters concerned about infrastructure, unemployment and education. While there are 12 presidential candidates, the major contenders are incumbent President Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and former President John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Student Nkonim Amo-Mensah went with her mother to a polling station at the University of Ghana. She was excited to vote and made up her mind on which candidate she supports within the last week. She is one of 2.63 million potential first-time voters. “I considered experience in the field, in the leadership field and what is in the campaign message, what they have for children, adults and underprivileged people,” she said.
Her mother, a teacher, was considering the education policies of the parties, and how that helps her extended family.
Educational issues were mentioned by several people who spoke with VOA at the polls. The NPP administration had introduced free senior high school, which the party campaigned heavily on.
Emmanuel Osabuti was waiting for lines to thin out at a polling station in Madina, an area of Accra where many people are of limited means.
He was voting to keep Akufo-Addo.
“Because of the free senior high school that he has introduced, I think it’s a good idea. It’s a policy that will educate Ghanaians so a time will come, let’s say 10 or 20 years to come, we will have more Ghanaians being educated,” he said.
Umar-Faruk Mohammed, a graduate nurse, was waiting to vote at a polling station that had seen violence in a 2019 by-election. This year, those waiting to vote said peace would reign.
Mohammed said he was voting for Mahama’s NDC, as the party had a female running mate, and he wanted to see her win. He said the party had good health care, education and gender development policies.
“For the first time we are seeing that in Ghana, and I am so much happy to see that, I think it’s a cause worth supporting, and that is when I made up my mind for the presidential election,” he said. He was also hoping a NDC parliamentary candidate — a well-known actor in Ghana — would win.
Ahead of the election, Mahama and Akufo-Addo signed a peace pact committing to non-violence regardless of the outcome of the vote. On Sunday night, in a televised address to the nation, Akufo-Addo said the world was looking to Ghana today, to further solidify its democratic credentials. He urged people to vote in what he said would be a peaceful, fair and transparent election.
Gilbert Tetevi, an election worker at a polling station set up at a police car park in Accra, said there were fewer voters compared to the last election so far. However, he expected more to come later in the day.
“Four years ago we had a crowd, and in the earlier stages it was a bit difficult controlling them, but so far so good here, the number has gone down, people have behaved themselves orderly, we have no problems yet so it’s been good,” he said.
He also pointed to the new COVID-19 protocols. The Electoral Commission introduced COVID-19 ambassadors to ensure mask-wearing, hand washing facilities and temperature checks.
The Electoral Commission has said it will aim to have results declared within 24 hours of closing.