FREETOWN – Voters in Sierra Leone headed on Wednesday to polling stations to elect a new president in the country’s first general election since emerging from the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
The elections will be a transition for the West African nation, as President Ernest Bai Koroma is stepping down after nearly 11 years in power.
“Polling in Sierra Leone now in full swing. Pleased to witness long queues of enthusiastic voters!” the European Union’s ambassador to Sierra Leone, Tom Vens, said on Twitter.
The election is expected to be a tight contest between Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress and Julius Maada Bio of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party.
Amid the election campaign, Kamara accused Bio of stealing $18 million in 1996 during the time he briefly led the country’s military junta government after coming to power in a coup.
In recent days, there have been clashes between supporters of the rival parties, leaving several people injured in the northern city of Port Loko and Bo in the south, a European diplomatic source told EFE.
“The National Electoral Commission wishes all voters a peaceful election day,” the NEC tweeted.
Sierra Leone’s 3.2 million registered voters are to choose from a field of 16 candidates vying for the presidency at 11,120 polling stations across the country, between 7:00 am and 5:00 pm.
Sources in the NEC told EFE that the first results are expected to be known as early as Saturday.
Nearly 4,000 people died of Ebola in Sierra Leone, primarily during the height of the outbreak in 2014, according to the World Health Organization.
The country was also devastated by a civil war that lasted from 1991-2002 and witnessed the use of child soldiers by both government and rebel forces, according to Human Rights Watch.
Sierra Leone gained its independence from Great Britain on April 27, 1961.