ACCRA Ghana voted on Wednesday in a presidential election that looks set to be a tight race, with the incumbent John Mahama seeking a second term in charge of an economy that has slowed since he took power.
Lower global prices for Ghana's gold, oil and cocoa exports and a fiscal crisis caused the slowdown, which made Mahama's government vulnerable to a challenge from the main opposition leader, Nana Akufo-Addo.
For years, Ghana was one of Africa's most dynamic economies. But it slumped in 2014 as commodities prices fell, and a fiscal crisis widened the budget deficit and elevated inflation.
Akufo-Addo's New Patriotic Party says the government has mismanaged national finances, including revenue from oil from an offshore field operated by British company Tullow that began to flow in 2010.
The government denies this and urges voters to stick with it. It is following a $918 million (£727 million) International Monetary Fund programme to restore fiscal balance, and it says growth will return to above 8 percent in 2017 as new oil and gas from Tullow and ENI fields come onstream.
"Every Ghanaian should exercise their civic responsibility and come out and vote. The destiny of our country depends on it," Mahama said as he cast his ballot in the town of Bole, Northern region.
Counting started immediately after polls shut at 5 p.m. (1700 GMT), but with around 29,000 polling stations, official results from the country's 275 constituencies across 10 regions are not expected until Thursday.
A run-off between the top two candidates will follow if no candidate wins a majority.
Ghana is considered a beacon of democracy in West Africa, with a history of peaceful elections. The government of the day has lost power twice since 2000.
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.
A crowd at Western Video polling station in the largely Muslim Mamobi neighbourhood of Accra watched the count and people cheered when results showed a Mahama win. The polling station forms part of a constituency Mahama's NDC won in 2012.
Reports showed few voting problems, said the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers. But voting was re-scheduled for Thursday in Jaman North constituency in Brong Ahafo region because of security concerns and logistical problems.
There are seven presidential contenders, including five minor candidates. In a parallel parliamentary vote, 275 seats are being contested.
(Editing by Tim Cocks)