Dec. 4 (GIN) – Ghanaians go to the polls on Dec. 7 to elect a new president and parliament, in what the country hopes will confirm its status as a beacon of democracy and stability in the region.

Media reports suggest a closely fought contest between John Dramani Mahama, who took over as president after the death of John Atta Mills in July, and Nana Akufo-Addo, the son of a former president.

The past few months of campaigning have been intense, with rallies, public debates and door-to-door campaigns. A number of party platforms included the promise to expand education for Ghana’s youth. The year-old Progressive Peoples Party proposed free tuition at the secondary school level. That pledge was later adopted by the New Patriotic Party of candidate Nana Akufo-Addo.

The incumbent National Democratic Congress, meanwhile, promised to “rapidly expand access to basic and secondary education by ensuring that the 20 percent of children who are not in school gain access to schooling.”

Media reports estimate spending by candidates has reached the $288 million (US) mark.

Aside from the generous campaign promises, the candidates have occasionally played the “ethnic” card to win votes. In one case, Akufo-Addo addressed voters at a rally by saying “yen Akan fwor” meaning “we the Akans”, while president Mahama pleaded to northern constituents to “vote for one of their own”.

The president is elected for a four-year term. A run-off will be held Dec. 28 if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote. Also up for grabs are 275 seats in Ghana’s unicameral parliament – up from 230 in previous polls.