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Sierra Leoneans choose among 16 presidential candidates

March 7, 2018
Associated Press

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Sierra Leone's voters are choosing a new president Wednesday from among 16 candidates in a race that has sparked debate over dual nationality and eligibility for the country's highest office.

Front-runners are Samura Kamara, the incumbent's pick as successor, and Julius Maada Bio, the man who was defeated in the 2012 election.

The race most likely will go to a second round later in March as observers say it's unlikely any one candidate will receive 55 percent of the vote.

It marks the fourth time elections have been held since Sierra Leone's brutal civil war ended in 2002. The incumbent, Ernest Bai Koroma, has served two terms and is barred by the constitution from running again.

Kamara, his hand-picked successor, is largely seen as a favorite after emerging from a crowded field of more than two dozen seeking the ruling APC party's nomination. He has served as Sierra Leone's foreign minister, finance minister, as well as governor of the Central Bank of Sierra Leone.

His main challenger is expected to be 53-year old-Julius Maada Bio of the SLPP, a former military leader who received 38 percent of the vote in 2012. Bio ruled Sierra Leone for three months in 1996 after having overthrown his former boss and friend before returning the country to civilian rule.

Some say that divisions within the party over Bio's running mate and some of the parliamentary candidates could affect his chances.

A third candidate who has emerged with a strong following is Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, a serious contender to break Sierra Leone's two-party hegemony. Although his party was launched only three months ago, he has been able to mobilize a disgruntled base as a result of current economic hardship and austerity.

Yumkella, the former director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), has been attracting significant crowds especially in Freetown.

In a bid to get him off the ballot, the ruling party has been trying to enforce a previously ignored citizenship provision of the 1991 constitution. The provision purports to bar Sierra Leoneans with dual citizenship from contesting for parliament and therefore the presidency.

The petition maintains that Yumkella also holds American citizenship.

Other plaintiffs led by presidential candidate Charles Francis Margai, are now challenging the ruling party candidate and maintaining he is ineligible for holding dual British-Sierra Leonean nationality.

The cases have been postponed until later in the month after the election.



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