Voters in Sierra Leone are going to the polls to elect a successor for President Ernest Bai Koroma in a campaign where an unprecedented number of political parties is making the outcome too close to call.
As Koroma nears the end of his second five-year term, 16 parties are competing in the elections in the West African nation. His successor will face the tough challenge of reviving an economy that’s struggling to recover from the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola and an iron-ore slump.
“There are certain things that aren’t going right,” Adama Deen, 38, said as he stood in line to vote at a polling station in the capital, Freetown. “We need change.”
Koroma chose former Foreign Affairs Minister Samura Kamara as the ruling All People’s Congress candidate to compete against the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party’s Julius Maada Bio.
While the two parties have dominated politics since independence, a newcomer, the National Grand Coalition, is expected to win a significant amount of votes, raising the probability of a runoff as no candidate is expected to secure 55 percent in the first round.
“The grip on power that the APC has is under threat,” Jamie Hitchen, an independent analyst, said by phone from Freetown. It is difficult to forecast “what will happen in the likely event of a runoff; it’s really hard to know how the other political parties will realign themselves,” he said.
Most polling stations opened by 7 a.m. on Wednesday. The outcome is likely to be announced by the weekend.
In 2012, Sierra Leone was sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest-growing economy as Chinese and U.K.-based investors began shipping iron ore, which took over from diamonds as the country’s biggest export.
But the double shock of a commodity price slump and the Ebola epidemic the following year triggered the collapse of the two iron-ore mines in the country and left the economy in ruins. The government’s also dealing with the aftermath of a huge mudslide in Freetown last year that killed about 1,100 people.