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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 15:14 GMT
Q&A: Central African Republic elections
Bozize election poster
The elections mark the end of a political transition

Voters in Central African Republic elect a president and assembly on Sunday, ending two years of military rule under President Francois Bozize.

Q: Who is favourite to win the presidency?

Francois Bozize, a former army general, who ousted former President Ange-Felix Patasse and took control in the capital, Bangui, in March 2003.

The coup was condemned internationally but Mr Bozize gradually gained approval at home after he restored security to the capital, paid wage arrears and launched an anti-corruption drive.

Though he pledged new elections when the security situation improved, the vote was delayed for two years due to instability in the north of the country. Mr Bozize announced in December 2004 he would run as an independent candidate after initially ruling himself out.

Q: Who are his main challengers?

Andre Kolingba, a former military ruler who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1988. He reinstated a multi-party system in 1991 but lost the first democratic election to Mr Patasse in 1993.

He led mutinies against Mr Patasse in 1996-97, but after a failed coup attempt in May 2001 fled to Uganda and France, returning in February 2005 to contest this election.

Martin Ziguele, who served as prime minister under Mr Patasse, is another front-runner. Eight other candidates include the current vice-president, Abel Goumba, lawyer Henri Pouzere and former government minister Auguste Boukanga.

Q: Who is competing in the parliamentary election?

Over 900 candidates are standing for 105 parliamentary seats. The main parties are:

The National Convergence Movement - a grouping of smaller parties, military officials and political leaders supporting Mr Bozize.

The Movement for the Liberation of Central Africans (MLPC) - led by Mr Patasse, the MLPC has been a leading party since 1993. After Mr Patasse was barred from running, the party backed Mr Ziguele but recent reports suggest a split with support gaining for Mr Bozize.

The Patriotic Front for Progress (FPP) - one of the oldest parties, founded in 1972, led by Vice-President Goumba.

The Movement for Democracy and Development (MDD) - founded in 1993 by former president David Dacko.

Q: What are the main issues?

Analysts say daunting economic and political challenges are facing the winner.

Non-payment of civil service and army salaries is cited as the main source of instability that has plagued the former French colony since independence in 1960.

Despite rich natural resources - diamonds, gold, uranium - the country remains one of the least developed in the world due to corruption and mismanagement of resources.

Q: How does the system work?

The legislature consists of the National Assembly, Economic and Regional Council, and the State Council. The three bodies are known as the Congress. The National Assembly consists of 105 seats, with deputies elected for a five-year term.

Under the new constitution, approved in December 2004, the presidential term has been reduced from six to five years. Presidents can only serve a maximum of two terms in office.

If there is no clear winner in the first round of the presidential election, a second round of voting will be contested by the two top candidates.

Some 1.6 million people are registered to vote and 5,411 voting centres have been set up across the country.

Q: What about the dispute over candidates?

President Patasse decorating General Bozize in 2001
General Bozize (right), took power from Ange-Felix Patasse (left)
President Bozize called simultaneous presidential and parliamentary polls in December 2004, setting 30 January 2005 as the election date, but then attempted to bar seven of his rivals from standing against him, which caused concern regionally.

Following Gabonese mediation in January, Mr Bozize backed down and agreed to allowed all but Mr Patasse to run. The elections were then postponed to 13 March to allow all candidates more time to campaign.

Q: Are there any international observers?

Teams from the Francophonie organization - comprising observers from Benin, Madagascar and Gabon - will observe the polling, according to state radio and RFI.

Q: Who will provide security?

Troops from the regional Central African Economic and Monetary Community have pledged to help the national army provide security during the polls. They will be backed by members of a UN mission that remained in the country in March 2000 when UN peacekeepers left.

Even though the army has not publicly backed any candidate, two - Mr Kolingba and Mr Bozize - have strong military links. The army - which has a long history of coups and mutinies - has been urged in the press to maintain neutrality in the polls.

Q: Have there been any irregularities?

The independent press have reported isolated incidents of clashes between rival groups of supporters, and allegations of some fraud involving voter registration documents. Independent and state media outlets have covered the campaign extensively and have made no secret of who their preferred candidates are.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.

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