politics

Sierra Leone Holds Run-Off as Opposition Shows Narrow Lead

Updated on
  • Several smaller parties have endorsed opposition candidate
  • Court ruled that vote should go ahead despite fraud complaint

Sierra Leone holds a presidential run-off vote on Saturday for the right to rule the West African nation that’s facing the challenge of reviving an economy battered by the Ebola outbreak and a drop in commodity prices.

Former military head of state Julius Maada Bio of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party led Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress by a 43.3 percent to 42.7 percent margin in the first round. Since then, the 53-year-old has gained the endorsement of four smaller parties whose candidates were eliminated. Kamara, 66, a career politician and economist by training, is outgoing President Ernest Bai Koroma’s hand-picked successor.

“For me this run-off is going to be a historic day,” Aminata Kamara, 27, said as she stood in line at a polling station in the capital, Freetown. “Definitely, change is going to be the important thing for me.”

Julius Maada Bio

Photographer: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP

The election was initially scheduled for March 27 but delayed after the electoral commission had to temporarily halt its preparations following a complaint of alleged fraud and irregularities during the first round from a member of the ruling party. While a court ruled that the vote should proceed, the commission said it needed four additional days to get ready. The complaint is still investigated.

Sierra Leone was sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest-growing economy in 2012 as Chinese and U.K.-based investors began shipping iron ore, which took over from diamonds as the country’s biggest export. But the double shock of a commodity price slump and the Ebola epidemic the following year triggered the collapse of the two iron-ore mines in the country and left the economy in ruins.

The government’s also dealing with the aftermath of a huge mudslide in Freetown last year that killed about 1,100 people. From 1991 to 2002, Sierra Leone was rocked by a civil war that was fueled by the illicit diamond trade and uprooted hundreds of thousands of people.

Among the smaller parties that support the opposition is the Coalition for Change of former Vice President Sam Sumana, who hails from the diamond-producing Kono district and won 8 out of 9 seats in parliament. The third-biggest party and a newcomer in Sierra Leone politics, the Coalition for Change, said it didn’t endorse either candidate.

The APC and SLPP have dominated politics since Sierra Leone gained independence from Britain in 1961.

(Updates with voter comment in third paragraph.)
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