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Sierra Leone Opposition Candidates to Ally Themselves Ahead of Runoff Election


The top two opposition candidates in Sierra Leone's presidential election have said they will ally themselves to run against ruling party candidate Vice President Solomon Berewa in an anticipated runoff. The most recent results show that with more than 90 percent of votes counted, no candidate is near the 55 percent required to win in the first round. Kari Barber has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

People's Movement for Democratic Change candidate Charles Margai, third in the presidential race, said Monday that he would back Ernest Koroma of the opposition All People's Congress in a runoff, which is expected to take place in September.

Koroma leads Vice President Berewa of the Sierra Leone People's Party throughout the preliminary vote tallying. As of Monday night, Margai had about 14 percent of the vote.

The PMDC broke off from the ruling SLPP in 2006.

PMDC Secretary-General Ansu Lansana says Margai's announcement is not an official statement of support from the party. Lansana says that decision has not been reached, but, he says, it is looking like joining up with the APC is the party's best option.

"We are merely giving support to Ernest Bai Koroma because he is the lesser of two evils, for want of a better expression," said Lansana. "We believe he has promised a clean break from the APC of the past, and we should give him an opportunity. Already the SLPP has had an opportunity for 11 years and they have flunked that opportunity."

Analysts say the support of the PMDC could be a key factor in the second round.

Spokesman for the ruling party, Victor Reider, says he is still confident his party would win in a runoff. He says their strategy will be to warn voters of the risk of taking the ruling party out of power at a time when the nation is fragile.

"We will caution them about running the risk of destroying everything that we have been able to put together since 2002 when the war ended," said Reider.

Analysts David Zounmenou with Johannesburg-based International Security Studies says the success of opposition parties so far in the race shows that many are not satisfied with the nation's rebuilding progress following its 11-year civil war.

"If it happens that the opposition takes the lead and this is confirmed, it shows the ability of Sierra Leone's people to sanction the government that has failed to address the basic issues that they were expecting when they voted the SLPP into power in 2002," said Zounmenou.

Infrastructure and basic services such as water and electricity are still lacking throughout much of the country.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was prevented by term limits from running again. Seven candidates vied to replace him in presidential polls held August 11, the first since the departure of U.N. peacekeepers in 2005.

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