By Kwasi Kpodo and Richard Valdmanis
ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghanaians waited on Sunday for official results to a presidential election that was fraught with technical problems, but which officials hope will still burnish the country's reputation as a pillar of African democracy.
A leading local news outlet that was compiling official results credited incumbent John Dramani Mahama with a narrow victory on Sunday, contradicting claims from the party of his top rival, Nana Akufo-Addo.
"We have a fair idea what the outcome of the elections will be," Mahama said at his house in a leafy suburb of the capital Accra. "But as a law-abiding political party, we shall wait for the electoral commission to make an official declaration."
The poll is seen as a test of whether Ghana can maintain 30 years of stability and progress in a region better known for coups, civil wars and corruption.
An oil-driven economic boom has brought more wealth but also fears that it could suffer the corruption and instability that often plagues energy-rich developing nations.
A cliff-hanger election in 2008, in which Akufo-Addo lost by less than 1 percent, pushed Ghana to the brink of chaos, with initial disputes over results driving hundreds of people into the streets with clubs and machetes.
Voting this time was plagued by delays after hundreds of newly-introduced electronic fingerprint readers - used to identify voters - failed on Friday and forced some polling stations to reopen on Saturday to clear the backlog.
But the problems were met calmly by the rival parties and ordinary Ghanaians, easing worries of the kind of street violence still common during elections in West Africa.
"This election has been hard, but we must remember Ghanaians are one and we must love each other and remain peaceful," said Wellington Dadzie, 69, a former soldier who lives on the outskirts of the capital Accra.
A spokesman for Ghana's election commission was not available to comment Sunday morning, but results are widely expected later Sunday or on Monday. A run-off is possible December 28 if no candidate wins an outright majority.
A small group of people gathered outside Mahama's house dusting themselves with white powder in a traditional victory ceremony, while several of his aides tied white hankerchiefs around their wrists.
Elsewhere in the city, Ghanaians were glued to their radios and television sets, waiting for official results.
"I want to hear it from the electoral commission," said Godwin Gone, a 42 year-old electrical engineer. "I hope they will speak soon."
Ghanaians are also choosing a new parliament, in which Mahama's National Democratic Party enjoyed a small majority.
Late on Saturday, the General Secretary of Akufo-Addo's party said he had seen figures showing Akufo-Addo had won the vote with 51 percent - a statement immediately criticized by Mahama's party as "reckless and provocative".
Mahama was the vice president to John Atta Mills and replaced him as president in July after he died of an illness. He has vowed to use the growing oil wealth to boost incomes and jumpstart development in a country where the average person lives on $4 a day.
Oil production in Ghana - which is also a big cocoa and gold producer - started two years ago and oil field operator Tullow Oil says it expects to boost output further in 2013.
Akufo-Addo, a British-trained lawyer and son of a former president, has criticized the ruling party for the slow pace of job creation and has promised to provide free primary and secondary school education.
But in a country where campaign messages rarely influence voting choices, many believe most of the 14 million voters will cast their ballots based on ethnic, social or regional ties.
Ghana has had five peaceful and constitutional transfers of power since its last coup in 1981, in stark contrast to the turmoil that surrounds it in the region.
Neighboring Ivory Coast tipped into civil war last year after a disputed 2010 poll and regional neighbors Mali and Guinea-Bissau have both suffered coups this year.
"These elections are important not just to Ghana but for the growing number of states and actors seeking to benefit from increasing confidence in Africa," said Alex Vines, Africa Research Director at Chatham House.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Jason Webb)