March 25, 2018 / 5:55 PM / 9 months ago

Sierra Leone opposition leader criticizes poll delay

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone opposition leader Julius Maada Bio, winner of the first round of a presidential election earlier this month, on Sunday criticized the ruling party’s successful bid to have a run-off poll delayed over alleged fraud.

Julius Maada Bio, the presidential candidate for the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), carries his daughter as he shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote during Sierra Leone's general election in Freetown, Sierra Leone March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Olivia Acland

Bio, who was briefly the head of a military junta in the 1990s, had been meant to face off against the ruling All People’s Congress candidate, ex-foreign minister Samura Kamara, on Tuesday.

However, a court on Saturday upheld a request for an injunction by an APC member who said there was evidence of electoral fraud that needed to be investigated before the poll could go ahead.

“This is a shame on this country that the ruling party is taking its own national institution to court and being destructive of the process that has already started,” Bio told Reuters. “I am not happy, I feel disappointed.”

Voting in the March 7 first round was largely peaceful.

President Ernest Bai Koroma’s willingness to step down in a region where other leaders have sought to cling to power has been seen as a sign of how far Sierra Leone’s democracy has come since a brutal 11-year civil war ended in 2002.

But tensions over alleged fraud in some districts and complaints of police harassment against the electoral commission have marred the election process.

“The APC is afraid to go to the election knowing that they are going to lose. Definitely we will take an action. I will appeal to every Sierra Leonean to express our displeasure,” Bio said, adding that supporters should respect the law.

Civil society organizations have also denounced the court decision and have called for the run-off poll to go ahead on Tuesday.

It is unclear now when the vote will take place.

Whoever is eventually elected to replace Koroma will face the difficult task of reviving an economy hit hard by low prices for iron ore - once touted as the key to lifting the West African nation out of poverty - and a deadly Ebola outbreak.

Reporting by Oluwa Seunn Sani; Additional reporting by Umaru Fofan; Writing by Joe Bavier; editing by David Evans

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