Sierra Leone's two big parties name presidential picks
Sierra Leone's two main parties have named their candidates for key presidential election next March, a benchmark of the country's stability since the end of civil war in 2002.
President Ernest Bai Koroma named Foreign Minister Samura Kamara and the deputy speaker of parliament, Chernor Maju Bah, as the All People's Congress (APC) candidates for the presidency and vice presidency.
The decisions were made late Sunday at an APC congress in Makeni, Koroma's home town, located in central Sierra Leone.
Kamara, 66, is an economist by profession who has worked extensively with International Monetary Fund (IMF). He has previously been minister of finance and governor of the central bank.
Under the party's statutes, the presidential candidate can be appointed either election or by the party leadership.
Separately, the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), at a congress in Freetown, elected former military leader Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, 53, as candidate for the March 7 election.
Bio lost to President Koroma in the 2012 vote.
Next year's general election -- which will cover presidential, legislative and local branches of government, will be the fifth since the end of an 11-year civil war in 2002.
The mood in the runup to the election is tense, with police investigating death threats against two officials of the National Electoral Commission, including its chairman, N'fah Alie Conteh.
“We are on the verge of conducting another round of elections. Elections that would consolidate the gains and standards we have maintained in the development of our democracy," Koroma said in a statement.
"(...) Let it be known that our commitment remains unshakeable in ensuring that the March 2018 elections are more transparent and more credible."
In power since 2007, Koroma is barred from standing again after serving two terms in office.
Thirteen parties have already registered for the vote, with seven more currently going through the registration process, said the chairman of the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), Patrick Hamilton.
The opposition party has been gripped by a constitutional crisis and court battles within the party hierarchy, prompting unease among supporters that has led to the formation of splinter groups.
One of the world's poorest countries, Sierra Leone struggled with an Ebola outbreak in 2014-16 that killed more than 4,000 people. The disaster was followed by a mudslide this August that left at least 500 people dead and more than 800 missing.
About 60 percent of people in Sierra Leone live below the national poverty line, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).