Africa News

Julius Maada Bio wins Sierra Leone presidential election

Sierra Leone’s opposition challenger, Julius Maada Bio, has secured his first term in office as a civilian after being declared the winner of a controversial presidential run-off.

Bio, a former soldier who briefly led a military junta more than two decades ago, won 51.81% of ballots in last month’s election, according to official results released on Wednesday.

He beat incumbent Samura Kamara, who secured 48.19% of the vote, ending a decade in power for Kamara’s All Peoples’ Congress (APC) in the poor west African nation.

Bio was in a group of young soldiers behind a 1992 coup that would install their leader, Valentine Strasser, as the youngest head of state in the world, at age 25.

He later took power but agreed to step aside in 1996 for an elected civilian leader, and his subsequent apologies for his role in the junta appear to have rehabilitated his image.

The official results of the vote had been delayed by a dispute over the method of tallying that left ballot papers from 11,000 polling stations uncounted.

The campaign was characterised by ugly verbal exchanges and sporadic violence, with Bio accusing the APC of using police to intimidate his party.

Police reported a string of attacks on candidates and supporters on both sides since the first round on 7 March – which Bio narrowly won – after which Kamara declared that “the safety and security of Sierra Leone is in our hands”.

Bio, a straight-talking retired brigadier, has blasted the government’s closeness to China, while Kamara had presented himself as a continuity candidate.

Although international observers reported some “issues” during the second round on 31 March which saw heightened security measures, the monitors declared themselves “satisfied” with the overall conduct of the poll.

Earlier on Wednesday, reports emerged of Kamara supporters marching in the capital Freetown, tearing down Bio posters and alleging “foreign meddling” in the vote.

Security forces erected a cordon around Bio’s Sierra Leone People’s party (SLPP) headquarters, where hundreds of supporters had already begun celebrating victory before the expected official results.

One of the world’s poorest nations despite huge mineral and diamond deposits, Sierra Leone is recovering gradually from war and disease. Its economy remains fragile, with corruption widespread in the former British colony.

Political loyalties are often divided along ethnic lines and traumatic memories of the 1991-2002 civil war run deep.

Source: The Guardian

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