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War-scarred Sierra Leone picks president

War-scarred Sierra Leone picks president

Polls will close at 5pm GMT and the electoral commission has said that all who will have joined the queues by that time will be able to cast their vote.

Sierra Leoneans are headed to the polls as voting gets underway to elect the country's next president and parliament.

. If there is a runoff, it is expected two weeks after the declaration of the results.

The front-runners are Samura Kamara, the incumbent's pick as successor, and Julius Maada Bio, the man who was defeated in the 2012 election.

President Ernest Bai Koroma is not running, after serving for two five-year terms.

Observers have described the elections as "keenly contested".

"We have about 60 observers around the country, what they are seeing is also encouraging". Before the deployment of observers, in line with its mandate to support member States holding elections, ECOWAS has also provided financial support after undertaking a pre-election fact-finding mission to Sierra Leone, and led a Joint ECOWAS/AU/UN High-Level Mission with the objective of ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page for credible elections and peaceful transfer of political power in the country.

While the economy grew by some 5% a year ago, Sierra Leone's next president will also need to grapple with inflation, now at 19%, and elevated levels of youth unemployment. "I have come to vote for the continuation of what the present government has done", he said.

The elections however, will have other candidates from other parties apart from the two major political parties.

.

However, the spokesman for the current president, Abdulai Bayratay, said the ruling APC party was "not trying to compromise the peace of the country".

"Chinese companies and political officials have bled into the current electoral cycle, shaping public discourse, as well as long-term economic and political decisions", noted the Institute for Governance Reform (IGR), a Freetown-based think tank in a recent report.

Meanwhile, outgoing president Koroma's increasing reliance on China for infrastructure, including a new airport and adjoining toll road, have raised concerns that Beijing is seeking to keep the APC in power.

Observers from the African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union and the British Commonwealth are all overseeing voting.

Voter freebies and funding for campaign materials could "potentially influence the voting public" in the APC's favour, it added.

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