FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE - The losing candidate in Sierra Leone's presidential election has said he will challenge the results.
Former Foreign Minister Samura Kamara announced the challenge Thursday, after the electoral commission declared Julius Maada Bio the winner of last weekend's run-off poll.
Official results showed Maada Bio, the candidate of the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party, winning almost 52 percent of the vote. Kamara garnered just over 48 percent.
Kamara, of the ruling All People’s Congress Party, said in a televised address that the outcome "did not reflect the will of the voters" and that the APC would take "appropriate legal action." He also counseled his backers to remain peaceful.
At his swearing-in ceremony, however, Maada Bio appeared upbeat.
"The people of this great nation have voted to take a new direction," he said Wednesday to cheers from supporters in the capital, Freetown. "We are honored and privileged to serve the new government of Sierra Leone."
The Associated Press reported that any registered voter has up to a week to contest an election's outcome.
In the March 7 general election, neither candidate reached the 55 percent threshold constitutionally required to win. Some 3.1 million people were registered to vote.
Maada Bio, who had campaigned against corruption, succeeds President Ernest Bai Koroma of the APC. Koroma had governed for two five-year terms, the constitutional limit.
Koroma spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay said the government was relieved that the first round and runoff elections generally were peaceful. He denied that the outcome served as a rejection of Koroma's 10 years at the helm.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, through a spokesman, congratulated Maada Bio on his election. In a statement issued Thursday, Guterres applauded the people of Sierra Leone "for the sense of responsibility that they have demonstrated in successfully completing the elections in a peaceful manner."
Guterres appealed for continued calm, stressing "the need for all stakeholders to seek redress of any grievances that could arise through established legal means."
The United States also congratulated Maada Bio on his victory, commending Sierra Leone's electoral commission for the "orderly, well-managed elections."
Earlier taste of leadership
Maada Bio led a military coup in early 1996, becoming head of the National Provisional Ruling Council military junta government for almost three months before stepping aside with the democratic election of a civilian president. He unsuccessfully ran for president against Koroma in 2012 as the SLPP candidate.
The new president has accused the ruling party of corruption and financial mismanagement. He said he plans to open a special division in Sierra Leone's high court to deal with corruption.
Maada Bio also contends the ruling party is too close to China, which is funding a new international airport and is engaged in other infrastructure projects.
Sierra Leone, a nation of 6.1 million people, is still recovering from the effects of a devastating Ebola epidemic in 2014 and 2015 that killed roughly 4,000 people.