Polls suggest President Kabila is ahead of his rivals
Voters in the Democratic Republic of Congo head to the polls on 30 July to elect a president and parliament in what they hope will be the country's first fully democratic vote since independence.
The elections are part of a UN-led three-year transition expected to end over four decades of corruption, dictatorship and wars, which have killed more than three million people.
The incumbent president Joseph Kabange Kabila is the big favourite to be president of the central African state with enormous mineral resources but widespread poverty.
Q: What's the history?
Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960 and in multi-party elections Patrice Lumumba was elected prime minister. He was murdered a year later and in 1965 Mobutu Sese Seko grabbed power in a coup, introducing a one-party system and changing the country's name to Zaire in 1971.
A rebellion led by Laurent Kabila, who renamed the country Democratic Republic of Congo, deposed Mr Mobutu in 1997.
In August 1998, President Kabila's government faced an insurrection from rebels linked to neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda. This spawned a regional war involving troops from half a dozen countries and leading to millions of deaths.
Laurent Kabila was assassinated in January 2001. His son, Joseph, assumed power and in July 2003 announced the formation of a UN-supervised transitional government.
Q: What's the security situation like now?
Although the country hosts the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, security remains a key issue, especially in the eastern provinces of Nord and Sud-Kivu. The UN has reported serious outbreaks of conflict in this area in the run-up to the elections.
The UN Observer Mission in DR Congo (Monuc) has 17,000 troops and has been in the country since 1999. UN troops will be backed by 2,000 EU forces during the polls, including forces from France, Germany and Slovenia.
Around 20,000 Congolese policemen and soldiers have also been trained by European and African countries.
Q: So what became of the armed groups?
There were around 300,000 combatants in the country in 2005.
Many former rebel leaders are now in the transitional government but armed wings of their groups still control militias.
Q: And what about regional stability?
According to the UN, successful Congolese elections will contribute greatly towards the recovery of the entire Great Lakes region that has been affected by DR Congo's conflict.
Neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda have accused DR Congo of harbouring rebels hostile to their governments.
In January, elements of the rebel Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army were blamed for the deaths of eight UN peacekeepers in DR Congo.
Q: How will the voting system work?
There are 33 candidates vying for the presidency and 9,707 candidates contesting 500 seats in parliament.
Some 25.6m adults are eligible to vote.
Official results will be announced on 14 September.
If no presidential candidate wins more than 50% of the votes cast on election day, the top two candidates will face a second round on 15 October.
The final results are due on 30 November.
The newly-elected president will name a prime minister from the party with highest number of seats in parliament.
The president is both the head of state and government. Under a new constitution, he is allowed a maximum of two five-year terms in office.
Q: Will observers be present?
The election is a key plank in the UN-led transition
There will be about 5,000 national and 500 international observers at the elections.
The foreign observers include representatives from the European Union, United Nations and African Union. The United States, South Africa, Japan and Belgium are also expected to send representatives.
Q: Who are the main presidential candidates?
1. Joseph Kabange Kabila
The youthful incumbent president is the front-runner in the race. He was born in eastern DR Congo but grew up in exile in Tanzania.
Aged 35, Mr Kabila has pledged to rebuild the country, promote national reconciliation and entrench democracy. He leads a coalition of 30 parties called the Alliance for the Presidential Majority (MPA).
2. Jean-Pierre Bemba
Mr Bemba, 44, is one of four vice-presidents in the transitional government. He is a former rebel leader and is running on a Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) ticket. His support comes from the north-west.
Mr Bemba has pledged to reform state institutions and improve governance.
3. Azarias Manywa Ruberwa
Another vice-president in the transitional government, Azaria Ruberwa is the leader of the former rebel group RDC (Congolese Rally for Democracy). He is contesting on an RDC ticket.
Mr Ruberwa is lawyer by profession. He was born in 1964 in Sud-Kivu province and is said to have strong Rwandan links.
He, too, has pledged reform and good governance.
Q: What's at stake for the economy?
DR Congo is generously endowed with petroleum, diamonds, gold and other minerals but its economy remains poor as a result of conflict and corrupt governments.
Most of the presidential candidates have pledged to deal with graft and introduce good governance.
Illegal natural resource exploitation and profiteering has thrived in the armed conflict.
It is hoped the elections will pave way for an organized exploitation of the country's enormous mineral wealth. DR Congo is currently among the top 10 countries in the world that produce major minerals like gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt and coltan.
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