Sierra Leone Front-runners to Contest Runoff After First-Round Stalemate

Sierra Leone will hold a runoff presidential election in two weeks after the country’s 16 candidates failed to clinch the 55 percent of votes necessary to win in the first round.

National Electoral Commission chair Mohammed Nfa’ali Conteh made the announcement at a press conference Tuesday night, a week after the country went to the polls.

“There will be second election, runoff, exclusively between the All People’s Congress presidential candidate Dr. Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara, and the Sierra Leone People’s Party presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio,” he said.

Kamara, a former minister, is the ruling APC’s presidential pick. He took 42.7 percent of the vote, slightly behind opposition SLPP’s Bio, who took 43.3 percent of the ballots. President Ernest Bai Koroma of the APC must step down this year after serving two terms.

Kamara ran on a platform of continuing the APC’s track record of infrastructure development. But opposition groups pointed to alleged corruption by the ruling party, as well as poor handling of crises such as the ebola outbreak in 2014.

This is the second time opposition candidate Bio has run for the country’s top government job. He lost the 2012 election to Koroma.

Despite Bio’s slight lead this time, reactions from his supporters, who hoped for a first round win, were subdued.

Mutaru Kamara was part of a small crowd of SLPP supporters who gathered quietly outside Bio’s house on the outskirts of Freetown.

“I’m not really happy regarding the outcome of the results because we are expecting victory tonight,” said Kamara.

At the APC headquarters in the capital, the crowd was more jubilant, even though they lagged in the poll. Party members wearing red cheered in front of television crews.

Mohamed Sise, a carpenter who voted for Kamara, looked for a silver lining.

“It’s not a disappointment because we have 15 parties against the ruling party, so if we come second it’s a blessing in disguise… We have the power to defeat them second round,” he said.

Both APC and SLPP may need to form coalitions with smaller parties to win a majority in the runoff, but analysts say APC faces an uphill battle to do so given widespread anti-establishment sentiment.

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