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Ruff-off looms, rivals parties clash as presidential vote count continues in Sierra Leone

L/R: Samura Kamara and Julius Maada Bio

FREETOWN––Supporters of rival political parties clashed while their leaders spar over the weekend after results of Sierra Leone’s presidential election were announced by the country’s National Election Commission.

On Saturday, the chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) N’Ali Koroma declared partial presidential results based on 25 percent of the total votes counted after the March 7 general election.

So far, the results from the country’s presidential election showed a runoff would be needed with no candidate set to secure the 55 percent required to win outright.

On Friday, the European Union observers team in the country labeled the election as “transparent, credible and well-organized,” but noted sporadic “intimidation and violence,” serious concerns which were also echoed by the Freetown-based Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI).

The diamond-rich, war-ravaged and decade-long corruption infested West African nation held presidential, parliamentary and local council elections last Wednesday.  Eyewitnesses say the poll was largely peaceful until an opposition leader’s residence was raided by security forces on suspicion of fraud.

“Nonsense Flowed Out From Your Lips” – Maada Bio Blasts Samura Kamara

Police raided Bio’s residence.  The raid followed ‘hacking’ claim by the ruling party on accusations of vote “hacking” despite Sierra Leone using a manual voting system.

The main opposition SLPP claimed the ruling APC was preparing to release “fake presidential results” but remained confident of victory.

The two main political parties have dominated Sierra Leone’s politics since independence in 1961, but third parties are determined to make their mark after mounting what analysts and political commentators described as charismatic campaigns.

According to Sierra Leone’s Constitution, incumbent president Ernest Bai Koroma cannot seek another term and is standing down after two terms.  His All Peoples Congress (APC) candidate Samura Kamara took a slight lead over former military ruler retired general Julius Maada Bio of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), based on 50 percent of returns and more from the National Electoral Commission (NEC).

Dr. Kandeh Yumkella resigned from the UN to contest for president.

The candidate of the ruling All Peoples Congress leads with 44.6 percent of the vote, followed by the presidential candidate of the main opposition, Sierra Leone People’s Party with 42.0 percent, and the presidential candidate of the National Grand Coalition (NGC) in the third position with 6.69 percent of votes counted.

The National Grand Coalition is headed by Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, a former high-ranked member of the SLPP and top United Nations official.

The NGC’s message of reform has won the minds and hearts of educated urban voters but the entrenched political culture has made it difficult for the party to persuade loyalists of the two main political parties.

Meanwhile, the NGC said Friday that it had identified “a number of serious irregularities in the voting process which will in some areas require immediate recounts.”

Globe Afrique has been informed that ‘Shops close in panic’ and fear of potential violence.  The initial results sparked unrest as supporters of the two main parties clashed in the capital’s central business district, leading police to make several arrests.

Several local traders said premature celebrations by supporters angered others. One local trader Abubakar Sesay said, “Just after the announcement of the results by NEC people started to celebrate, which angered other onlookers.”

Sierra Leone is an export-dependent economy that is mineral-rich but remains an impoverished country in a dire state following the 2014-16 Ebola crisis and a commodity price slump that has driven away foreign investors.

Voters are hoping a new president and new government would turn things around. Samura Kamara of the ruling APC is a former governor of the central bank, former minister of finance and current foreign minister of the country.  Retired general Julius Maada Bio is a former army general and ex-military ruler who returned the country to civilian rule in the 1990s.  Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is a former minister in Sierra Leone and former director general of the United Nations Industrial Organization who also served as special representative of the United Nations on sustainable energy.

A presidential runoff is likely, according to experts, as the threshold to win outright in the first round is 55 percent.

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Paul Stevens

Paul Stevens is a researcher, media issues analyst and senior contributor with Globe Afrique.
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