A runoff is looking likely in Sierra Leone's presidential election, held last Saturday. With more than 80 percent of preliminary results released, neither of the top two contenders is close to the 55 percent of votes needed to win outright. In the latest results released by the National Electoral Commission, opposition leader Ernest Koroma has 44 percent and Vice President Solomon Berewa has 38 percent. Kari Barber has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

 Spokesman for the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party, Victor Reider, says his party is preparing its strategy in case the presidential vote goes to a runoff, which would likely be held in September. SLPP candidate Vice President Solomon Berewa has trailed Ernest Koroma of the All People's Congress throughout the preliminary vote tallying.

"Our priority will be to go back to our people, especially in those areas where we seemingly did not do well and try to canvas their support while not underestimating the need for alliances," he said.

The People's Movement for Democratic Change, the party of third place candidate Charles Margai, broke off from the ruling party in 2006. A runoff would likely see the APC and SLPP courting the third place candidate's backing and supporters.

Carolyn Norris with the International Crisis Group says a runoff could provide a good opportunity for Sierra Leoneans to make demands on their leaders.

"I think it will be an interesting time, but it is also a time when the electorate should take every possibility to make requests of presidential candidates who remain in the race and try and establish the rules of what they want the president to do for Sierra Leone," said Norris. 

The Sierra Leone government has been called one of the most corrupt in the world, according to surveys by non governmental organizations.

Norris says the voters will want to see the winner taking immediate actions to show progress once he enters office.

"The expectations of the Sierra Leone people have been heightened by this very vibrant electoral process and once this person is in the statehouse, that person has to take very seriously the expectation of the population," added Norris.

President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah could not run again after serving the maximum two terms in office.

The presidential elections are the first since UN peacekeepers left Sierra Leone in 2005 after an 11- year civil war that ravaged the country. The war is said to have been fueled by the illegal sale of so-called "conflict diamonds."