People gesture as they show their support for the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) party outside the party's headquarters in Freetown, Sierra Leone March 13, 2018. Image Credit: Reuters

Freetown: Sierra Leone will hold a run-off vote for president on March 27, the election commission said Tuesday, after the country’s main opposition finished slightly ahead of the ruling party in the first round of voting.

Opposition leader Julius Maada Bio, from the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), took 43.3 per cent of votes in the March 7 election, while Samura Kamara of the incumbent All Peoples Congress (APC) took 42.7 per cent, the commission said.

Turnout appeared to be around 85 per cent of Sierra Leone’s 3.1 million voters.

The threshold to win in the first round was 55 per cent, and the final results released Tuesday were slightly delayed by recounts in some areas.

The two parties dominate Sierra Leone’s politics and have ruled alternately since independence from Britain in 1961.

President Ernest Bai Koroma, who cannot run again after consecutive five-year terms, anointed Kamara as his successor.

Third party candidate Kandeh Yumkella finished with just 6.9 per cent of votes despite his National Grand Coalition (NGC) party’s hopes of an electoral breakthrough.

Meanwhile police said they made several arrests in the capital Freetown and in the northern Kono region after unrest broke out between rival political groups.

The export-dependent economy of the mineral-rich but impoverished West African country is in a dire state following the 2014-16 Ebola crisis. A commodity price slump has driven away foreign investors.