ANALYSIS: Top contenders for Sierra Leone presidential election

Map showing Sierra Leone. [Photo credit: Africa Guide]

Barring any last minute decision by the Supreme Court, Sierra Leone will hold presidential, legislative and local government elections on March 7. This will be the fourth elections since the end of the civil war in 2002 and the first since the Ebola epidemic. The incumbent, Ernest Bai Koroma, having served two terms is barred by the constitution for contesting for a third term.

Although 16 candidates, including two women, are vying for the presidency, only three stand any realistic chance of winning the election. Mr. Koroma’s handpicked successor and ruling All People’s Congress (APC) candidate, Samura Kamara, is the favourite. A former foreign and finance minister and ex-governor of the Central Bank Sierra Leone, Mr. Kamara’s chances looked dimmed when he was eliminated in the first round of the elections for the presidency of the African Development Bank. He, however, bounced back and regained Mr. Koroma’s trust and was anointed by Mr. Koroma over all the other 28 plus challengers within the APC. His selection has not led to any major defections from the ruling party although many remain unhappy with the selection process.

Mr. Kamara’s main challenger is expected to be Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). The former military leader who ruled Sierra Leone for three months in 1996 having overthrown his former boss and friend, Valentine Strasser, is contesting his second election. He lost in 2012 to Mr. Koroma polling 37.4 per cent of the votes in the second round as opposed to Mr. Koroma’s 58.7 per cent. A split in the SLPP, plus divisions over the selection of the running mate and some of its parliamentary candidates may seriously affect Mr. Bio’s chances of winning, though he sounds pretty confident of victory and says his party will not accept the results if the election is not credible.

The dark horse in the presidential race is the National Grand Coalition’s Kandeh Yumkella. The former Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is 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 mobilise a disgruntled base suffering the economic hardship and austerity. An ex-United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, he has been pulling significant crowds especially in Freetown. In a bid to get him off the ballot, the ruling APC enforced a hitherto ignored provision of the constitution on citizenship. The provision purports to bar dual nationals from contesting for parliament and therefore the presidency. A case against him has been filed in the Supreme Court by the assistant to the Secretary General of APC in his private capacity. The hearing is expected later this month and may likely determine whether the election is postponed and whether he remains on the ballot.

Other candidates in the race include former Vice President Samuel Sumana, who is expected to do well in his home district of Kono but not so well elsewhere, and former internal affairs minister and kingmaker in the 2007 elections, Charles Margai.

None of the candidates is expected to acquire the required 55 per cent of the valid votes necessary for an outright first round victory. A runoff is expected two weeks after the first round’s results are announced. The outcome of the elections may very well be determined in the four walls of the law court building in central Freetown.

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