The peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) faces one of its stiffest tests on 30 July when provinces across the massive country go to the polls. A successful election that is generally regarded as free and fair and which produces a strong government could inject new impetus into improving the level of security in the country. It could help to put out the embers of conflict that continue to burn in several areas and provide a kick-start to the process of nation building.
Yet a collapse in the security situation and a disputed result could prolong the country's distress, resulting in an extended period of uncertainty for the heart of Africa.
The Presidential and Legislative elections were originally due to be held in 2005 but there have been a variety of delays, largely in order to allow candidates to register; and because of fighting in the east of the country.
The polls will be the first opportunity for the vast majority of Congolese to cast a vote. There was one election immediately after independence but the government ran into difficulties within weeks, partly because of the haste of the withdrawal of the colonial Belgian authorities and political interference from foreign powers.
Voting is being overseen by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which has also set an official period of one month for campaigning, from 29 June until 28 July, in the 169 constituencies.
The IEC faces a massive task in managing an election across a country the size of half of Western Europe with virtually no democratic tradition and no established polling system or officials. In addition, the lack of nationwide road and rail infrastructure means that parts of the country are virtually cut off from one another.
It had been suggested that the election should be held over several days to give everyone an opportunity to vote, but it was felt that a prolonged election would increase the chances of violence and electoral irregularities.
The successful presidential candidate must secure over 50% of the vote and so more than one round of voting is likely. While Joseph Kabila, head of the interim government formed in 2003, is the strong favourite for the presidency--if for no other reason than the lack of popular alternatives--the composition of the next government is far more difficult to determine. It was hoped that all parties would contest the election but it is now believed that the Union for...