An opposition candidate has taken the lead out of a field of 16 hopefuls in a tight presidential race. If neither candidate receives 51% of votes cast, a runoff is required.
Earlier in the day, presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party scored 848,438 (43.3%) votes cast while the candidate of the ruling APC (All People’s Congress), Samura Kamara, was behind with 833,519 votes (42.6%).
Recounts have been ordered for 154 of the nation’s 11,122 polling stations.
In a grueling campaign, candidate Kamara ran on a record of building roads and connecting electricity during his party’s 10 years in office. But the APC was tarnished by claims of corruption, mishandling of the 2014 Ebola epidemic and a massive mudslide last year that killed over 1,000 people on the outskirts of Freetown.
One polling station at a Catholic church was within view of the collapsed hillside. The Rev. Joseph Emmanuel Bangura remarked: “The mudslide was a year ago, but the victims still face the same difficult problem, no new housing. Should they go back to the same place where they were?” he asked rhetorically.
For his part, opposition candidate Bio promised to provide credible leadership to transform Sierra Leone “into a middle-income country of the 21st century.” A man with a colorful military history, Bio is a retired Brigadier and former Head of State. He led a military coup against President Joseph Saidu Momoh in 1992 and later ousted his close friend and the youngest head of state at 25, Capt. Valentine Strasser in 1996.
After retiring from the military, Bio moved to the United States for postgraduate studies. Other details about his life have been the subject of speculation. In 2015, he told a news reporter that he had immigration problems with the U.S. The headline to the interview reads: ‘“I am not allowed to enter the United States” – Maada Bio confesses.’
“I have a problem with the immigration, which is why I have not been allowed to go there. And sometimes you can have a simple problem, even filling your visa application,” Bio said.
“I don’t need to go to the United States to lead my country. It is the people of this country who will have to decide. I just want you to know that, as and when the people of this country say I am the leader of this country, the United States will not refuse me visa.” w/pix of Sierra Leonean ballot checker