Voters in Ghana lined up as early as 2 a.m. local time (2 a.m. GMT) on Friday to select their next President and Parliament, waiting patiently to cast their ballots for one of the eight presidential contenders, including President John Dramani Mahama and his main challenger Nana Akufo-Addo.

Having a population of 25 million, the West African nation is conducting its sixth transparent election. Known as a beacon of democracy, it is a pacesetter for the continent’s efforts to become democratic — no other country in the region has had so many elections deemed free and fair, a reputation voters hold close to their hearts.

Though it has a fast-growing economy,a deep divide exists between those benefiting from the country’s oil, cocoa and mineral wealth and those left behind financially.

With the race for the presidency expected to be close — many analysts believe Mr. Mahama and Mr. Akufo-Addo to be neck-and-neck — the turnout at the polls was high. The incumbent Mr. Mahama (54), a former Vice-President, was catapulted into office in July after the unexpected death of former President John Atta Mills. The main challenger Mr. Akufo-Addo, in an interview on the eve of the vote, told The Associated Press that the first thing he will do if elected is begin working on providing free high school education for all. “It’s a matter of great concern to me,” he said, adding that he plans to use the oil wealth to educate the population, industrialise the economy and create better jobs for Ghanaians.

Policy-oriented and intellectual, Mr. Akufo-Addo is favoured by the young and urbanised voters. He was educated in England and comes from a privileged family. The ruling party has depicted him as elitist.

“The idea that merely because you are born into privilege that automatically means you are against the welfare of the ordinary people, that’s nonsense,” he said.

Results are expected to be announced by Sunday. If no one wins an absolute majority, a second round of voting will be held on December 28. All candidates have signed a peace pact and have promised to accept the results of Friday’s poll.

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