Julius Maada Bio, the candidate for the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), was officially sworn in as president on April 4 following a contentious election.
No candidate received an absolute majority of votes in the first round of voting on March 7, which prompted a runoff election between SLPP candidate Julius Maada Bio and Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC) party on March 31 following a slight delay.
In the runoff, Bio received 51.81 percent of the vote, and Kamara received 48.19 percent. Following the election, the Chairman of National Election Commission, Mohamed Conteh, certified the results and declared Bio the winner. Despite the presidential victory for Bio’s party, the SLPP won just 47 of the 132 seats in Sierra Leone’s parliament. Kamara’s party, the APC, won a majority in the parliament with 67 out of the 132 seats.
Kamara, however, plans to challenge the results of the election, stating that there were instances of “massive ballot-stuffing, over-voting, fraudulent voter registers and other electoral irregularities.” Kamara has called for a recount in Sierra Leone’s southern province and plans to take legal action to challenge the result of the election.
Despite these concerns, Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice Abdulai Hamid Charm officially swore in Bio as president following the election.
Bio has since called for unity and cooperation and has asked Kamara to work with him in the new government. “The SLPP won the elections and we will form an inclusive government reflecting all aspects of Sierra Leone,” stated Bio. “I will promote national unity, cohesion and disciplined leadership,” he added.
Kamara has yet to concede in the election but signaled that he may be open to working with Bio in a recent interview, stating, “I have a passion to serve Sierra Leone at any time.’‘
Sierra Leone’s outgoing president, APC party member Ernest Bai Koroma, met with Bio following his victory and has not appeared to challenge the results. Koroma is leaving the presidency due to a constitutionally mandated two-term limit.
The election itself was largely peaceful, and international observers have not raised any major concerns about the validity of the results. However, during the campaign, Bio claimed that the APC and Sierra Leone’s government were attacking international election observers. “I have been following with utter dismay the ferocious and incessant verbal and media attacks by certain high officials of the Sierra Leone [government]directed against international elections observers and members of the diplomatic corps accredited to Sierra Leone.”
Sierra Leone is still recovering from an 11-year long civil war that ended in 2002, as well as from the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and mudslides in 2017. Many in Sierra Leone are hoping that the transfer of power following the election goes peacefully in order to prevent another outbreak of violence. Sierra Leone ranks at the bottom of the Human Development Index, and experts have stated that national reconciliation and unity are important initial steps to promoting development. However, the contentiousness of this election questions whether that unity is currently possible.