Voters in Sierra Leone were deciding Saturday whether to give President Julius Maada Bio a second term in office amid high unemployment and growing concern about the state of the economy in the West African nation.
Bio faced a field of a dozen challengers though experts have predicted it’s likely his main competition will be Samura Kamara, the head of the All People’s Congress Party, whom he defeated in 2018.
To avoid a runoff, the winner must secure 55% of the vote. In the previous election, Bio beat Kamara in the runoff by a margin of less than five percentage points.
Bio has been facing increasing criticism because of debilitating economic conditions, which his opponent is pledging to fix. Nearly 60% of Sierra Leone’s population of more than 7 million are facing poverty, with youth unemployment being one of the highest in West Africa.
Multiple deadly anti-government protests have rocked the country during Bio’s term, with calls for him to step down. Fueled by a rise in cost of living, the latest one last August, left dozens dead, including security forces.
“We expect that when the results are out everything will be peaceful and as young people we will be able to see changes in our country,” said voter Fatmata Kamara.
A former military head of state, Bio came to power promising to end rampant corruption. Analysts say that he invested in improving education in the country and took steps to fight rampant corruption. But the weak economy has drawn criticism, with Sierra Leoneans taking to the streets protesting widespread poverty.
Bio’s opponent, Kamara, is a seasoned politician who has served in various government positions including as foreign minister.
Saturday’s vote is the country’s fifth presidential election since the end of a brutal 11-year civil war more than two decades ago.
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