FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Sierra Leone's incumbent president handily won re-election and was sworn in by the country's chief justice as the capital of the war-scarred country erupted in drumming and celebration.
Ernest Bai Koroma won 58.7 percent of the vote. His closest rival, opposition leader and retired Brig. Gen. Julius Maada Bio, came in second with 37.4 percent, according to results announced Friday by National Electoral Commission chairwoman Christiana Thorpe.
Eight challengers attempted to unseat Koroma in the Nov. 17 election, the third presidential poll since the end of Sierra Leone's horrific civil war in 2002.
The 11-year war, which was dramatized in the Leonardo Di Caprio film "Blood Diamond," wrecked the country's economy. Rebels were known for hacking off the arms of their victims, asking them if they preferred "short sleeves" or "long sleeves." The country is dotted with visual reminders of the war, including a league of amputee soccer teams.
"The people have spoken, and their collective will has prevailed. This is a win for every Sierra Leonean," Koroma told the nation in his acceptance speech late Friday. "The time for politics is over ... This is the time for all of us to embrace each other."
"I will make sure the fruits of the agenda for prosperity are equality distributed in every district of the country and enjoyed by all. The work starts today," he added.
Koroma polled 1,314,881 out of the 2,350,626 valid votes cast, and Thorpe said that 97.6 percent of votes had been counted. Bio received 837,517 votes. To avoid a runoff, the winning candidate needed to get at least 55 percent of the vote. Turnout was high, with more than 87 percent of the 2.6 million registered voters casting ballots.
The 59-year-old president was first elected in 2007 on a ticket of change, and he says he has visibly improved the country's quality of life. His supporters point to newly paved roads and a government health care reform program that has provided free medical treatment, although there are serious concerns about its sustainability.
But his opponents argue that not enough progress has been made, drawing attention to Sierra Leone's dismal statistics, which include one of the world's highest rates of maternal mortality.
Thorpe announced that anyone that contests the results has seven days to appeal to the country's Supreme Court.
A White House statement Friday congratulated Koroma on his election, saying, "This election demonstrates the progress that Sierra Leone has made in strengthening its democratic institutions since the end of the civil war in 2002." It said that any grievances should be resolved through the judicial system.