The people of Zimbabwe go to the polls on 29 March with the octogenarian Robert Mugabe looking to continue his 28-year-term in office.
The government has tried to revive the economy by printing money
The country is facing economic ruin with inflation spiralling out of control, currently topping 100,000%.
There is also mounting concern about the flawed electoral process and allegations of vote-buying.
Zimbabwe's economy is in crisis.
Poor management, combined with political violence and the impact of Mr Mugabe's land reform programme contributed to the downturn.
In recent years, the size of the national economy, or Gross Domestic Product, has fallen while inflation has soared.
Official figures for February 2008 calculate the annual inflation rate at 100,580%, up from 7,600% in July 2007.
In 1980, US$1 bought 80 Zimbabwean cents, in early March that figure is about Z$50m. A loaf of bread cost Z$7m.
By contrast, GDP in neighbouring Zambia grew by 6% in 2007 and inflation was running at 9.5% in February 2008, according to Zambian government figures.
Wages are not keeping pace with inflation and barter has become an increasingly common form of trade.
Agricultural and mineral exports have fallen and much trade is done on the black market.
The government has taken steps to try to revive the economy, like revaluing the Zimbabwean dollar and imposing strict price controls, but to no avail.
The price controls have led to shortages, as businesses say they cannot afford to sell goods for less than the cost of making them.
Badly-needed support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been suspended because the government has fallen behind with loan repayments.
Zimbabwe has a population of 12.3m - with an estimated 1.8m living with HIV/Aids. Largely as a result of this, the country has the lowest life expectancy in the world.
According to WHO figures, men can expect to live to 37 years, and women only 34.
One of President Mugabe's biggest achievements has been education. Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa at 90% of the population.
However, unemployment is running at about 80%
In May 2005, the Zimbabwean government began a campaign of forced evictions and demolitions resulting in the internal displacement of an estimated 570,000 people, many of whom remain in transit camps and have limited access to assistance.
Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order) initially targetted high-density shanty towns and moved onto settlements on farms in rural areas and urban fringes.
The ongoing economic crisis has also contributed to the movement of people from their homes in search of a better livelihood.
Figures of the number who have fled are unreliable, but the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) estimates about 3.4m Zimbabweans have left their home country, most of them heading for South Africa.
Under colonial laws, much of the country's best land was reserved for white farmers and anger at this was a key factor in the 1970s war of independence, led by Mr Mugabe.
In 2000, some 70% of the best land was owned by 4,000 white farmers and Mr Mugabe speeded up the process of seizing it and redistributing it to blacks.
But many of the new farmers had little or no experience and no assets to buy seed or fertilizer.
Some farms were allocated to government ministers or other leading figures in Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.
Since the redistribution, agricultural production has fallen.
Government figures show the amount of land planted with key crops like maize, soya and tobacco has fallen.
Drought has also contributed to what have been significant shortfalls in food production since 2001.
Many Zimbabweans survive on just one meal a day. Relief agencies say 25% of Zimbabweans require food aid.
The United Nations (UN) estimates that 4.1m people will face serious food shortages in Zimbabwe in 2008.
Mr Mugabe played a key role in ending white rule and he won elections by a landslide to become Zimbabwe's first prime minister. His Zanu-PF party has dominated politics ever since.
Robert Mugabe is bidding to continue his 28-year rule
He became executive president on 1 January 1988 after a change in the constitution.
Although the land reform programme was marred by violence, and even deaths, President Mugabe went to the polls in 2002 pledging to speed up the process.
He won the election against a backdrop of allegations of vote-rigging, intimidation and fraud.
The Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai is the largest opposition party.
But the party split into two factions in 2005, weakening its position.
Former Finance Minister Simba Makoni, who has the support of the smaller MDC faction, is standing in the presidential election.
Senators, MPs and local councillors are also being elected on 29 March.