New President Julius Maada Bio has promised to serve all Sierra Leoneans regardless of their affiliations.
In his maiden speech after being sworn-in on Wednesday evening, President Bio praised his predecessor Ernest Bai Koroma for the peaceful transition of power and promised to promote national unity, cohesion and discipline.
“I will be president for every Sierra Leonean, whether you voted for me or not,” he said in the hall of the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel.
It was the second time Brig (Rtd) Bio had contested the presidency. He first tried in 2012 when he was defeated by Mr Koroma.
Brig Bio ruled Sierra Leone briefly as military head of state in 1996, after staging a palace coup that ousted his boss, Captain Valentine Strasser. He then presided over the first multiparty democratic election in the country, which was then in war and subsequently handed over power to the late President Ahmad Tejan Kabba under the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
Brig Bio then joined SLPP as a civilian, under whose ticket he first contested the presidency in 2012.
His latest campaign was on the platform of education and he promised to provide free leaning for primary and secondary school children.
But he will also have to deal with an economy that has long been struggling to recover from the effect of a chain of natural disasters, notably the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic and last August’s deadly mudslide and flooding that hit the capital, Freetown, killing about 1,000 people.
Dr Kandeh Yumkella, the man who came third in the first round of voting, tweeted a congratulatory message to President Bio, immediately after he was sworn in.
His main challenger, Dr Samura Kamara, however said he would challenge the outcome in court, citing irregularities he alleged the Nation Electoral Commission (NEC) refused to give consideration to.
Bio, 53, was declared winner of the tightly contested March 31 run-off and was sworn into office two hours later.
The SLPP candidate defeated Dr Kamara of the incumbent All People’s Congress (APC) with 1,319,406 votes, representing 51.81 per cent of the ballots cast, against the latter's 1,227,181, representing 48.19 per cent.
NEC chairman Mohamed Nfa Allie Conteh declared the results in a televised address following a marathon tallying that lasted four days.
Two rival parties
Some 3.1 million Sierra Leoneans had been registered to vote, but NEC recorded 2,578,271 vote cast, representing turnout of 81 per cent.
Of that, 31,694 votes (1.2 per cent) were declared invalid.
The voting and tallying were intermittently interrupted by disagreements between the two rival parties, also occasioning violent and sometimes even fatal clashes.
The presidential oath was administered by the Chief Justice Abdullai Cham.