Sierra Leone frontrunners to contest runoff after first-round stalemate

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FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone’s election to pick outgoing President Ernest Bai Koroma’s successor will head to a runoff later this month after neither of the two frontrunners secured an outright majority in the first round, the electoral commission said on Tuesday.

Opposition leader Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party led the field of 16 candidates with 43.3 percent in the first round of the vote, held last Wednesday, according to results announced by the commission in the capital Freetown.

Maada Bio, who briefly ruled the West African country as head of a military junta in 1996, will square off against first-round runner-up Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress, who took 42.7 percent.

The runoff will take place on March 27, the commission said.

Koroma is stepping aside after his maximum two terms in office. The largely peaceful vote to replace him came as a relief for the country of seven million people, which endured a brutal, diamond-fuelled civil war in the 1990s.

But the winner will face pressure to revive a moribund economy that has been ravaged in recent years by low prices for its main export, iron ore, and an Ebola outbreak.

Reporting By Umaru Fofana; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Gareth Jones