Preliminary results in Sierra Leone's presidential election put main opposition leader Julius Maada Bio slightly ahead of ruling party candidate Samura Kamara. Observers say a second round of voting is highly likely.
Sierra Leone's electoral commission said Julius Maada Bio, leader of the opposition People's Party, was about 15,000 votes ahead of rival Samura Kamara, with 75 percent of the ballots counted.
According to partial results, Bio had 43.4 percent of the vote, while Kamara of the ruling All People's Congress (APC) had 42.6 percent. The other two main candidates -- Kandeh Yumkella and Samuel Sam-Sumana -- were on 7 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.
Full results are expected in the next few days. If no candidate garners the 55 percent needed to win the first round, the vote will go to a run-off.
Time for change?
President Ernest Bai Koroma is stepping down after serving a maximum of two five-year terms in office. He had tapped former foreign minister Kamara, 76, to run for APC against 53-year-old Bio, a former junta leader.
The two parties have dominated politics in Sierra Leone since the West African country became independent from Britain in 1961.
A total of 16 candidates ran in the presidential polls on March 7. European Union observers described the vote as generally "transparent, credible and well-organized," but noted there had been concerns about "intimidation and violence" in some areas.
Whoever is ultimately declared president faces a number of significant challenges. The economy of the poverty-stricken country is in a poor state following a commodity price slump and an Ebola epidemic that killed thousands of people.
nm/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa)