VOTERS are choosing a new president from among 16 candidates in a race that has sparked debate over dual nationality and eligibility for the highest office in Sierra Leone.

Front-runners in the election are Samura Kamara, incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma’s pick as successor, and Julius Maada Bio, the man who was defeated in the 2012 poll.

The race is expected to go to a second round later in March as observers say it is unlikely that any one candidate will receive 55 per cent of the vote.

It marks the fourth time elections have been held since Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war ended in 2002. The current president has served two terms and is barred by the constitution from running again.

Kamara, Koroma’s hand-picked successor, is largely seen as a favourite after emerging from a crowded field of more than two dozen seeking the ruling APC party’s nomination. He has served as Sierra Leone’s foreign minister, finance minister, as well as governor of the Central Bank of Sierra Leone.

His main challenger is expected to be 53-year-old Bio of the SLPP, a former military leader who received 38 per cent of the vote in 2012. He ruled for three months in 1996 after overthrowing his former boss and friend before returning the country to civilian rule.