FREETOWN — 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 a 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,” announced National Electoral Commission chair Mohammed Nfa’ali Conteh at a Tuesday press conference.
Current president Ernest Bai Koroma of the APC must step down this year after serving two terms.
Kamara, the former minister who is the ruling APC’s presidential pick, took 42.7 percent of the vote, slightly behind opposition SLPP’s Bio, who took 43.3 percent of the ballots. The result, announced one week after polls closed, following a tally process that was hit by numerous allegations of irregularities.
The National Electoral Commission recounted votes at 154 polling stations, while votes at 221 total polling stations were declared null and void due to overvoting.
This is the second time Bio has tried for the country’s top government job, after losing to current president Koroma in 2012.Despite Bio’s slight lead on the ruling party this time, reactions to the announcement were subdued from SLPP supporters, who hoped for a first-round win.
“I’m not really happy regarding the outcome of the results because we are expecting a victory tonight,” said Mutaru Kamara, an SLPP supporter who gathered with a small crowd outside of Bio’s house on the outskirts of Freetown.
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. One man instructed interviewees to “be positive.”
On the street outside the APC headquarters 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,” said Sise. “We have the power to defeat them the second round.”
Both APC and SLPP have spoken of working with smaller parties to win in the runoff, but analysts say APC faces an uphill battle to do so given widespread anti-establishment sentiment among the smaller parties.
One former candidate, who may be courted by both sides, is former vice president Samuel Sam-Sumana. Sam-Sumana took 3.5 percent of the vote, making him a key potential coalition partner, but he was ousted by the APC in 2015 and bad blood remains.
While Sierra Leone’s election has been mostly peaceful so far, the runoff period also may heighten the risk of electoral violence. On Tuesday, Amnesty International called on the government to ensure that Sierra Leoneans can speak and campaign freely in the second round.
“Authorities should take all lawful measures to protect people from any violence and harassment, and investigate them on an equal basis,” said the group’s West Africa researcher Sabrina Mahtani.
In the first round, international election observers expressed concern over incidents of violence and intimidation before and after the polls, including by police.
– Jason Patinkin I VOA