Sierra Leone’s Koroma wins election

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FREETOWN  (AFP) – Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Koroma swept to a second term Friday, winning 58 percent of votes in a poll that observers praised for its peacefulness and which focussed on the nation’s post-war recovery.

The 59-year-old incumbent triumphed over his main rival Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) who trailed with 37.4 percent of votes.

And since he won more than 55 percent of the vote in the first round, the contest does not have to go to a second round.

The crucial test for the west African nation will be whether ex-military leader Bio accepts the outcome. During the vote, he alleged fraud and vowed that he would not let his supporters be cheated.

The country still bears the scars of a brutal 11-year civil conflict during which rebels chopped off the limbs of civilians during a campaign of terror. They bankrolled their army with the sale of so-called “blood diamonds”.

National Elections Commission chief Christiana Thorpe said Koroma had won 1,314,881 votes to Bio’s 837,517 in an election which had a massive 87.3 percent voter turnout.

The third runner-up was Charles Margai of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) who won 1.3 percent of the vote.

“Ernest Bai Koroma has been duly elected president of the Republic of Sierra Leone at the presidential election of 2012,” said Thorpe.

Sierra Leone’s third election since the war ended in 2002 was widely praised as peaceful, transparent and well-conducted by observers, who wanted to see if the country had cemented its status as a stable democracy.

Koroma was first elected in 2007 in an election that saw pockets of violence, but eventually led to a peaceful transfer of power from the opposition SLPP to his All People’s Congress (APC).

No results were announced for parliamentary and local elections, which were held simultaneously, the first polls wholly organised by government since the end of the conflict.

As counting was under way, Bio alleged “rampant ballot stuffing” and vowed he would not allow the mandate of his supporters to be stolen.

“Any citizen of Sierra Leone may challenge the validity of the election of the president by petition to the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, within seven days after the declaration of the presidential results,” Thorpe said.

Koroma is credited with having ushered in investment, overseeing a construction boom, introducing free healthcare for mothers and young children, building new roads and bringing in a more stable supply of electricity.

Now accustomed to peace, Sierra Leoneans who are still amongst the world’s poorest people, voted for greater development as the country expects a lucrative windfall from its rich mineral resources.

Koroma’s government will be tasked with stewardship of a boom in the country’s mining industry, notably iron-ore, and possible oil production.

Sierra Leone is rich in mineral resources and massive iron-ore stores are expected to add 21 percent growth this year to its $2.2-billion (1.7-billion-euro) gross domestic product, the International Monetary Fund estimates.

If well-managed, these resources could change the fortunes of a nation which has one of Africa’s lowest life expectancies at 47 years, according to the World Bank, and highest rates of maternal mortality. Youth unemployment levels hover at 60 percent.

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