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Sierra Leone leader defends presidential candidate, record


Sierra Leone’s outgoing President Ernest Bai Koroma delivers a speech during a campaign rally for his party’s presidential candidate on March 3, 2018, in Kambia, ahead of the country’s general election.<br />Sierra Leone goes to the polls on March 7 for a general election that will select a new president, parliament and local councils.<br />/ AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO

Sierra Leone’s outgoing leader has defended the presidential candidate widely seen as his handpicked successor on amid accusations of personal interference, and hit out at opponents of an election day vehicle ban.

The West African nation goes to the polls on Wednesday to choose a replacement for Ernest Bai Koroma, who is stepping down after 10 years as president, along with a new parliament.

Koroma told AFP at a rally Saturday in the western town of Kambia that Samura Kamara, the candidate of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC), would not act as “his master’s voice”, adding: “He is definitely going to be himself.”

The president is staying on as party chairman after stepping aside, leading to accusations he wants to retain control of the APC from behind the scenes via his former foreign minister.

Koroma also defended his record, admitting he was “not saying we got it all right” with an economy hit by the twin blows of Ebola and slumped commodity prices, but also tarred by successive corruption allegations.

Surrounded by hundreds of supporters waving red flags and covered top to toe in the red sun icon of the APC, Koroma looked at ease as his last day in power approaches.

“I’m campaigning so that our APC party will remain in power to continue the good work we have started,” Koroma told the small crowd, arguing against the influence of social media and for continuity of his road building programme.

Sierra Leone’s president also addressed concerns by rights groups that a ban on all vehicles without a government pass on voting day could disenfranchise large swathes of the population reliant on public and private transport to reach polling stations.

“All of it is intelligence driven. The police who are in charge of the security of people during elections have already been informed that people have intentions of moving in with machetes and others to disrupt the process,” he said.

After watching the rally, Muhamadu Tuiay, 18, wouldn’t confirm who his vote would go to, but said he wanted to improve the poor state of education in the country, where half the population is illiterate and many are forced into work from childhood.

“We are suffering,” he told AFP. “(It’s) the lack of teachers and the money we are paying for school fees is too much,” he said.

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