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Old rivals: Akuffo-Addo, Mahama face off in Ghana's election - for the third time

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Ghana, reputed to be a democratic example in West Africa, is preparing to elect its president on Monday in what promises to be a particularly close election between two long-time political adversaries.

President Nana Akufo-Addo, 76, a candidate for the New Patriotic Party (NPP), is seeking a second term against his predecessor John Mahama, 62, leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

In 2012 and 2016, they had already competed for the highest office. Each narrowly won one of the two ballots.

So Monday's election looks like déjà vu, even though 11 other candidates, including three women, are in the running.

The contenders will have to convince Ghana's 17 million voters, more than half of whom are under 35, who will also elect their 275 deputies.

Unemployment, infrastructure and roads, education, and health are the main issues, according to pre-election surveys.

Since the early 2000s, this country, rich in gold, cocoa, and more recently oil, has experienced strong growth. And the rate of extreme poverty has been halved in less than 25 years.

But some regions, particularly in the North, continue to live in extreme poverty, without drinking water or electricity.

Above all, the crisis caused by the coronavirus has hit the country hard, with growth this year expected to fall to 0.9 percent, according to the IMF, the lowest rate in more than 30 years, compared to 6.5 percent in 2019.

The outgoing president was praised for his management of this crisis, and he kept some of his campaign promises for 2016, including on education and access to electricity, but he disappointed on his main commitment: to actively fight corruption, after the mandate of John Mahama, tainted by scandals.

According to an Afrobarometer survey conducted in 2019, 53% of Ghanaians believe that the level of corruption has increased in the country. In addition, the special anti-corruption prosecutor, appointed after Akufo-Addo's election, resigned in November, accusing the president of obstructing his work.

No election fever

For his part, Mr. Mahama will have to make people forget the accusations of economic mismanagement that prevented his re-election in 2016.

This year, however, he can count on his running mate, Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang, a former Minister of Education with a reputation for integrity and from the Centre, one of the key regions to win the election.

In the polls, Mr. Akufo-Addo is ahead of Mr. Mahama, but many analysts predict that his party's majority in Parliament could erode.

With the coronavirus - which has officially affected more than 50,000 people and killed 300 since March - election fever has not taken hold of the country.

"There are indeed some parties and activities organized by the militants and political slogans that are played over and over again on the radio, but there is no big meeting," Kojo Asante, of the Ghanaian Center for Democratic Development, told AFP.

So far, Ghana has always escaped post-election violence and political transitions have been largely peaceful, unlike many of its West African neighbors.

The pre-election period, however, was marked by clashes, with opponents blaming the electoral commission for a lack of neutrality.

"Tensions between the two main parties have not completely dissipated, and the results could be contested," warned Sam Kwarkye of the think tank Institute for Security Studies.

More than 62,000 members of the security forces are expected to be deployed throughout the country, police said. As for the two political rivals, they are getting ready to sign on Friday "a peace pact", a sign of a very strong commitment to democracy in this country.

Asante said the elections are expected to be peaceful, noting a large number of international and local observers planned for the elections.

He added: "Everyone wants the election in Ghana to go well. Because there are already too many hot spots to deal with in this region".