Ghana President John Dramani Mahama

Accra -

Africa's latest oil-producing nation, Ghana, is set to determine who will manage its newfound petrodollar windfall when it holds elections on Friday.

The last ballot in 2008 was influenced only by “the smell of oil”, as it had been discovered off the West African country's shores a year earlier and production had yet to begin, said Franklin Oduro of the Accra-based think tank Ghana Centre for Democratic Development.

“The stakes in the elections are about who gets the chance to manage the country, and (its) resources. And oil is an issue,” Oduro said.

The presidential vote is expected to be a tight race between incumbent John Dramani Mahama, of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and his main opponent Nana Akufo-Addo, of the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

About 13.6 million registered voters - more than half of the population - are expected to cast their votes in a country frequently praised for being a stable democracy in a region plagued by political unrest.

It is Ghana's fifth national election since the adoption of a constitution in 1992.

In 2008, Akufo-Addo lost the presidency by less than 1 percent of the vote to the NDC candidate John Atta Mills, who governed the country until his sudden death in July 2012.

Vice President Mahama was sworn in as president the day of Mills' death, in a smooth transition seen as a sign of Ghana's maturing democracy.

Recent televised presidential debates also attest to its positive political development. Mahama is the first sitting president to have participated in the debates, where the discussion focused around the economy, healthcare and education.

An analysis by the London-based Chatham House found that the “elections are important for further consolidating Ghana's democracy and building up the credibility and institutions required to oversee Ghana's newly found oil.”

Education is the dividing issue between the two main parties, with the NPP campaigning for free secondary education and the NDC advocating a gradual process due to lack of proper infrastructure.

Oil is seen as a main resource for infrastructure development, with production expected to increase by 2013 to 120,000 barrels per day from the current 90,000 barrels.

While Ghana is the continent's second-biggest gold producer and the third-largest cocoa grower in the world, the country struggles with frequent power cuts and access to clean toilets. Nearly one-third of the population lives under the poverty line.

About 5,000 security personnel will be deployed to help ensure a peaceful vote in the country that was the first African nation to gain independence in 1957.

Provisional election results are expected to be announced about 48 hours after polls close. If no candidate wins 50 percent plus one of the votes, a run-off will be held on December 28. - Sapa-dpa