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Ghana heads to polls next week as democracy tested in region

FILE- In this Sept. 25 2019 file photo, Ghana's President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters. Ghanaians head to the polls for general elections on Monday Dec. 7 2020 that many contend will be a close race between the current head of state and a former president who have faced off twice before in one of the continent’s most politically stable countries. The vote is also seen as a test of democracy for the West African nation whose regional neighbors Guinea and Ivory Coast saw leaders hold onto power for third terms after constitutional changes. Whoever wins Ghana’s election will serve their second and final term. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, file)

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Ghanaians head to the polls for general elections Dec. 7 that many contend will be a close race between the current head of state and a former president who have faced off twice before in one of the continent’s most politically stable countries.

The vote is also seen as a test of democracy for the West African nation whose regional neighbors Guinea and Ivory Coast saw leaders hold onto power for third terms after constitutional changes.

Though there are 12 candidates vying for the presidency, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the ruling New Patriotic Party is likely to see the greatest challenge from leading opposition candidate John Dramani Mahama, who won the 2012 election, but lost in 2016 to Akufo-Addo. If either of the two heavyweights win, they’ll serve a second and final term under current constitutional limits.

Ghana has held peaceful, free, fair and transparent elections for nearly two decades — this will be the eighth consecutive election since the return to multi-party democracy in 1992.

Many hope this year’s election will also be peaceful, although there have been reports of a couple of armed attacks in the north and central region. Ghana Police Service has identified about 4,000 hotspots across the country, according to Jones Applerh, the executive secretary of the government body the Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons, though only a few regions will need focused attention. The army has been deployed to the Volta Region.

A member of the governing board of the National Peace Council, Osofo Kofi Atabuatsi, has reassured voters there will be calm before during and after the polls.

Both President Akufo-Addo and former President Mahama have campaigned on anti-corruption platforms, while trading accusations against each other.

Mahama says the electoral commission has not demonstrated it is capable of conducting a free, fair and transparent election and has insisted that “we will not accept the result of a flawed election.”

Akufo-Addo said “all Ghanaians are agreed that we have to work together to ensure that the elections will be transparent, free, fair, safe and credible.”

Electoral Chairwoman Jean Mensa has pledged the elections will be conducted freely, transparently and fairly.

“l am very worried that there is likely to be some trouble during this election,” said Sitsofe Mifetu, a businessman in Accra. “We have heard of both parties training vigilante groups and it is possible these people will be used to caused disruptions at the polling centers.”

First-time voter Abraham Thompson, 18, also indicated he felt unsettled.

“I am delighted to be casting my vote for the first time, but at the same time, l have this lingering fear that all may not be well,” he said, without detailing what his fears are. “That will be sad for the country that has been hailed all over the world as the country with the best democratic credentials.”

This year’s elections are also faced with the challenge of COVID-19, which the Ghanaian government has been making strides to fight. The electoral commission has said it is taking various protocols seriously, including turning away voters who aren’t wearing masks.

Ghana has about 17 million people registered to vote at more than 33,000 polling stations for the president and 275 legislative seats.

Experts say it is likely Akufo-Addo will win the election, though he would have to get more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a second round.

The electoral commission will announce results within 72 hours after the election.