Partial results released Saturday in the race for Sierra Leone's new president show no one has a strong enough majority so far to win Wednesday's polls as election observers criticized the country's police for intimidating opposition members before and after the vote.
With results in from 25 percent of polling stations from each of the country's 15 districts, the ruling All People's Congress party candidate, Samura Kamara, is in the lead with 44.6 percent of the vote, trailed by the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party's Julius Maada Bio, who garnered 42 percent so far, according to the country's independent National Electoral Commission (NEC).
Third-party candidate Kandeh Yumkella of the newly formed National Grand Coalition, which had hoped to break decades of dominance by the country's two leading parties, earned just 6.6 percent of votes counted. There are 16 total presidential candidates.
A presidential candidate needs to garner more than 55 percent of the vote to win in the first round, or else there will be a run-off between the top two candidates. The NEC will release another round of partial results once ballots from 50 percent of polling stations are counted.
Analysts say this year's election is one of the most hotly contested polls in the West African country's recent history. Over three million Sierra Leonians were registered to cast ballots for a new president, parliament, mayors, and local councils.
The APC ran on a track record of completing new roads and other infrastructure during the tenure of outgoing President Ernest Bai Komora, who must step down after serving two terms.
But opposition groups have criticized the government for corruption and its handling of the 2014 ebola crisis and a 2017 mudslide in the capital, Freetown, twin disasters which together claimed thousands of lives.
While Wednesday's voting took place mostly smoothly, two observer missions accused the police of misconduct before and after the vote.
"Voters were able to exercise their democratic rights peacefully, however intimidation and instances of violence marred the election," said a preliminary report from the European Union observer mission, which deployed around 100 observers to the country, pointing to arrests of dozens of candidates and party campaigners in the run up to the vote.
Another mission from the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) led by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan expressed concern over an incident on Wednesday evening when police attempted to enter an SLPP headquarters, leading to a brief skirmish between officers and opposition supporters.
The EISA mission termed the police's action as an act of "aggression" which threatened peace and security.
Meanwhile, opposition groups have complained about flaws in the vote count.
The NGC party said there were "blatant irregularities" and demanded a review of results from some polling stations. SLPP Secretary General Umaru Napoleon Komora said his party presented evidence to NEC of other alleged problems, including that their party agents at some polling stations were not supplied with copies of vote count forms for inspection.