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Last Updated: Friday, 16 December 2005, 13:01 GMT
Q&A: DR Congo vote
Sunday's referendum on a new constitution in Democratic Republic of Congo is a key step on the road to restoring normality in a country ravaged by decades of war and misrule.

Man reads constitution
This man is one of the lucky few who has got a copy of the constitution
If passed, it would pave the way for elections due by the end of June next year. However, many Congolese complain that they have not seen the draft constitution and so cannot be expected to vote on it.

Why is the referendum important?

DR Congo is currently being ruled under transitional arrangements agreed in 2002 at the end of a five-year war.

The leaders of the various factions became vice-presidents.

A new constitution would set the rules for next year's elections, which would be DR Congo's first multi-party polls in more than 40 years.

Will the constitution be passed?

Although the electoral commission says it has distributed some 500,000 copies in four major Congolese languages - Lingala, Kikongo, Tshiluba and Swahili - even educated people in Kinshasa say they do not know what is in the constitution.

The leadership of the 55% of Congolese who are Catholics have urged voters to turn out and vote, but the Catholic lay people's association has called on voters to reject the constitution because of the lack of voter education.

The leader of the main opposition party, Etienne Tshisekedi, has called for a boycott.

But all members of the government say it should be passed. Some voters say they just want an end to the period of transition and will vote "Yes" even though they do not know what it contains.

What is in the constitution?

The president will be limited to two five-year terms.

The age limit for presidents will be reduced from 35 to 30. Incumbent Joseph Kabila, who inherited the post from his father, Laurent, is 33.

The president will nominate a prime minister from the party with a majority in parliament.

The number of provinces will be increased from 10 to 26.

This could be contentious as in such a vast country with poor infrastructure, some provinces can feel as though they are separate countries. Those enjoying such powers might not want to see them diluted.

The constitution states that members of all ethnic groups in DR Congo at independence in 1960 can be citizens.

This may be controversial in parts of the east, where some Congolese see the ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge as foreigners, even though they have been in DR Congo for several generations.

Same-sex marriage is banned.

Women have equal representation in government and equal access to administrative positions.

How will the referendum work?

Some 24 million people are registered to vote at the 9,300 polling stations.

Polls open at 0200 GMT and close at 1400 GMT.

However, logistical problems mean some polling stations may not open on time and voting could be extended.

Votes will be counted in the respective polling station in the presence of electoral officials, observers and five designated voters.

Results from the various stations will then be collated and send to the provincial electoral commission for final tabulation for the respective provinces.

The 15,000 UN peacekeepers in DR Congo are tasked with ensuring the vote passes off smoothly.

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