Kibi (Ghana) (AFP) - Ghanaians began voting Wednesday in an unpredictable presidential election that is being seen as a litmus test of stability in Africa's most secure democracy.
Once praised by US President Barack Obama for its peaceful transfers of power, Ghana has come under fire amid reports of voter intimidation and questions over the independence of the country's election agency.
Charismatic incumbent John Mahama is running for reelection against veteran politician Nana Akufo-Addo, who has chipped away at the popularity of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) party by criticising the country's sluggish growth and high-profile corruption scandals.
Some 15 million people are registered to vote, and polling stations opened across the country at 0700 GMT.
"We are facing a lot of problems economically, everything is messy," Julie Amofah, a 26-year-old who cast the first ballot at a polling station in Kibi, a town 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the capital, Accra.
"I voted for change so we can move forward."
Shadrack Opoku, an 18-year-old high school student, said Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) is the "right person for our country" who can secure future growth.
"When we complete university, we want better jobs," Opoku said. "Right now it's not good."
In the final days of the campaign, Mahama flexed his significant resources to reach as many battleground regions as possible where he inaugurated blockbuster infrastructure projects, including railways and airports.
"Mahama has done well for us," said Abudula Alhassan, a 40-year-old driver in the northern town of Bole, a government stronghold.
An exporter of gold, cocoa and oil, Ghana was once hailed as a regional growth model but has now taken on too much debt and in 2015 had to go to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.
There are seven candidates battling for the top job and if the smaller parties perform well and deny either man a majority, a presidential run-off will be held later in December.
But ahead of the vote, tensions were building with police saying an NPP supporter was beaten to death and six others were critically wounded during clashes on Monday between supporters of the two main parties following a rally in the north.