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Sierra Leone - March 7, 2018 General Election

Voters in Sierra Leone flocked to the polls on Wednesday March 7, 2018 to pick a new president, with many craving economic change and a boost to living standards in one of the world's poorest countries. By midday long queues had formed under the boiling sun in the capital, Freetown, as party leaders cast their votes and one party complained of irregularities in the northern provinces. The National Grand Coalition (NGC), headed by former UN diplomat Kandeh Yumkella, is challenging the two-party system by appealing to young and better-educated urban voters deemed less likely to vote along regional and ethnic lines.

But there are 16 total candidates, including women, vying for the top job, so analysts say the results, expected by the weekend, will likely necessitate in a run-off. To win in the first round, a candidate must earn 55 percent of votes.

Going into the March 7, 2018 General Election, since the return to multi-party politics, none of the two foremost political parties had won elections to enter a third term in a row. A win for the ruling All Peoples Congress [APC] will mean that party had fully regained its former stature before and during the One Party Dictatorship. The APC had all the MPs in both the North and Western areas of the country. For almost seven years the Sierra Leone Peoples Party [SLPP] have been overwhelmed by intra-party squabbles.

Ethnic affiliations have traditionally been a strong influence in political party membership for the country's two dominant ethnic groups, the Mende and Temne, each of which included approximately 30 percent of the population. Sierra Leone, battered by a horrific 1991-2002 civil war, is sharply divided along regional lines that overlap with ethnicity. The APC broadly relies on the Temne and Limba people in its northern strongholds, while the SLPP is more popular in the south with the Mende ethnic group. Other than ethnic Limbas, the third most populous ethnic group who have traditionally supported the APC, the country's other ethnic minority groups had no strong political party affiliations.

Sierra Leones ruling All Peoples Congress appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Samura Kamara as its candidate for the 2018 presidential polls to succeed President Ernest Bai Koroma. A long-time supporter of the president, he was installed as governor of Sierra Leones central bank in 2007 and promoted to finance minister two years later. When Koroma was re-elected in 2012, Kamara became foreign minister, a role in which he has drawn criticism for his perceived inaction towards the countrys growing human trafficking problem.

Koroma came to power in 2007 under the aegis of the All Peoples Congress (APC), he won a second term in November 2012. Bai Koroma was completing his second and legally mandated final term and the country is therefore looking ahead to national and local elections in early 2018.

The decision by Koroma to choose his successor as leader of the ruling All Peoples Congress raised fears about the future of democracy in the country. Civil society organisations, including the government watchdog group Institute for Governance Reform (IGR), voiced concerns that Koromas failure to allow party members to vote for their new leader echoed the actions of former dictator Siaka Stevens, who on standing down in 1985 ushered Joseph Momoh into office.

APC has faced criticism for corruption, and the mishandling of the deadly 2014 Ebola epidemic and a massive mudslide last year that killed over 1,000 people on the outskirts of Freetown. APC is running on its record of building roads and connecting electricity over the past 10 years in office. The main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party elected retired brigadier Julius Maada Bio as its candidate for the March polls, Prince Harding, the organizations chairman, said on state radio. It will be the second time that Maada Bio competes for president after receiving 38 percent of ballots cast against Koroma in 2012. Bio is very popular within SLPP circles, and beat three others in the primaries with all his contenders pledging to support him wrestle power from the APC.

Bio maintained a strong cult of personality in Sierra Leones southern provinces since his military rule, and had even erected signs across the country proclaiming himself Sierra Leones Father of Democracy.

Partial results released 10 March 2018 in the race for Sierra Leone's new president showed no one had a strong enough majority so far to win Wednesday's polls as election observers criticized the country's police for intimidating opposition members before and after the vote. With results in from 25 percent of polling stations from each of the country's 15 districts, the ruling All People's Congress party candidate, Samura Kamara, was in the lead with 44.6 percent of the vote, trailed by the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party's Julius Maada Bio, who garnered 42 percent so far, according to the country's independent National Electoral Commission (NEC). Third-party candidate Kandeh Yumkella of the newly formed National Grand Coalition, which had hoped to break decades of dominance by the country's two leading parties, earned just 6.6 percent of votes counted. There were 16 total presidential candidates.

A run-off presidential election between the first and second placed candidates is held two weeks after the certification of the results, unless a candidate wins 55% in the first round.

The parliamentary and council elections are decided in a single round, first past the post system. A total of 132 MPs are elected from a choice of 752 candidates fielded by 17 parties (as well as 40 independents). Additionally, there are 2,741 candidates for a total of 511 elected local positions as councillors, council chairpersons and mayors.

Voting in Sierra Leone's presidential runoff election seemed peaceful 31 March 2018 during the Easter holiday weekend, as citizens hoped to complete a process started on March 7. The current president, Ernest Bai Koroma, was stepping down this year after serving two five-year terms. Voters Saturday are casting ballots for either the ruling All Peoples Congress Party's presidential candidate Dr. Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara, or the Sierra Leone People's Party presidential candidate, Julius Maada Bio. This was the second time opposition candidate Bio had run for the country's top government job. He lost the 2012 election to President Koroma.

Sierra Leone's opposition party said 03 April 2017 its candidate won the country's presidential election runoff, according to its own tally of the results. Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) said opposition leader Julius Maada Bio took 54.11 percent of the votes, while Samura Kamara of the ruling All People's Congress (APC) won 45.89 percent. Julius Maada Bio waas been sworn in as Sierra Leone's new president after winning a tight run-off vote. Bio took the oath of office soon after the electoral commission named him the winner.

Sierra Leone's ruling All People's Congress presidential candidate, Samura Kamara, said he would contest the results of the recent presidential election, after the electoral commission declared opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio the winner. Kamara said on national television that the result of the March 31 run-off was distorted due to "massive ballot stuffing, over-voting and fraudulent voter registers."

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