Promises and Party Divisions Abound in Sierra Leone’s Wide-Open Presidential Race

Promises and Party Divisions Abound in Sierra Leone’s Wide-Open Presidential Race
President Ernest Bai Koroma, center, is flanked by then-Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana and Chinese Ambassador Zhao Yanbo, at the opening of the China Friendship Hospital, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Sept. 25, 2014 (AP photo by Michael Duff).

Voters in Sierra Leone head to the polls Wednesday in a presidential election that will likely go to a second round, with none of the leading contenders looking strong enough to top the 55 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Six frontrunners—among the 16 candidates that will be on the ballot—appeared in a televised debate on Feb. 15 that for the first time ever included all major candidates. Broadcast on national television and across radio networks, the debate captured how competitive the race is, as term-limited President Ernest Bai Koroma’s decade in office comes to an end.

Koroma’s All People’s Congress, or APC, in power since 2007 and one of two political parties that has dominated politics in Sierra Leone since its independence in 1961, has a new face at the helm in Samura Kamara, a veteran government minister and former head of Sierra Leone’s Central Bank. Despite concerns that Koroma might try and extend his time in power, he oversaw the selection of Kamara as the APC’s flag-bearer last fall. The choice of Kamara was a surprising one, and a decision taken unilaterally by the president, after the party failed to reach a majority decision.

“At the convention we had delegates that, in reality, had no authority. The decision was ultimately the president’s,” the Institute for Governance Reforms’ Andrew Lavali told The Guardian last year. After murmurs of disgruntlement with the decision, key party members, many of whom were among the 27 presidential hopefuls, have since rallied around Kamara.

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