Africa

Sierra Leone election: Julius Maada Bio beats Samura Kamara in first round

A voter casts her ballot at a polling station during Sierra Leone"s general election in Freetown, Sierra Leone March 7, 2018. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The first round vote took place on 7 March

A former military coup leader has won the first round of Sierra Leone's presidential election.

Julius Maada Bio secured 43.3% of the vote, short of the 55% he needed to avoid a second round run-off.

He will now face the ruling party candidate, Samura Kamara, who was behind by just 0.6%, in two weeks.

Should Brig Bio win that contest, it will be the second time he has led Sierra Leone, having briefly headed a military junta in 1996.

Brig Bio came to power after ousting Valentine Strasser - the soldier he had helped become Africa's youngest leader in another coup just four years earlier.

Three months later, he stood down in favour of the democratically elected Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

But he is not the only one with a strong a link to his short-lived military junta: Brig Bio chose his now rival Mr Kamara as his finance minister in 1996.

More than two decades later, the two men have stood against each other, offering the country different visions of their future, fought on the platforms of corruption, the economy and the state of the country's education and health.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Supporters of the ruling party gathered outside their headquarters

According to our reporter in Freetown, Mr Kamara is offering the country the option of "continuation" - arguing the current administration is making strides forward which need to be built on.

Brig Bio, on the other hand, is the change candidate.

Analysis: 'The Father of Democracy'

by Umaru Fofana, BBC News, Freetown

Julius Maada Bio is a man who is loved by his supporters with as much fanaticism as he is loathed by his critics.

The 53-year-old was part of a group of soldiers who overthrew the government in 1992 when he was in his late 20s. In January 1996, he staged a palace coup, arguing that his boss, Capt Valentine Strasser, wanted to renege on the promised handover to an elected civilian government.

His supporters point to that to call him the "father of democracy".

But his critics say those elections were forced on him, arguing that he tried to cling on but failed because of the popular will of the people. They also cite gross human rights violations witnessed while he was in power, for which he has taken "collective responsibility".

As leader of the country's oldest political party - the Sierra Leone People's Party - which draws its support from the south-east of the country, his popularity is not in doubt. The country's two main political parties - the other being the governing All People's Congress - are largely ethnically based. So whoever leads them is certain to get a huge following in their strongholds.

But what Brig Bio has managed to do is to improve on the party's vote in areas where he did very badly five years ago when he ran against outgoing President Ernest Bai Koroma.

He perhaps won't be surprised: during the presidential debate last month, the retired brigadier boasted on stage he was the most popular of all the candidates. None of his challengers disputed his claim, and the result of yesterday has confirmed that.

There has been no reaction yet from the two men, but our reporter says he would not be surprised if the campaign buses were spotted making their way around the country today.

Both candidates will also need to approach the men who came third and fourth, as their support will be crucial.

However, that is likely to be tricky as they were both, at one time, members of the leading candidates' parties. One was expelled from the ruling party, while the other resigned from the main opposition.

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