Will elections end the fighting in Central African Republic?

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Central African Republic election to take place amid violence

Voters in the Central African Republic (CAR) cast their ballots on 30 December in presidential and parliamentary elections aimed at re-establishing an elected administration after three years of turmoil.

A Muslim alliance called the Seleka seized power in March 2013. A band of mostly Christian militias, called the anti-Balaka, rose up to counter the Seleka as the country descended into sectarian violence.

A transitional government was formed in January 2014 and elections have been postponed four times since February 2015 due to insecurity and logistical challenges, in spite of the presence of international peacekeepers.

Who is running for president?

Former Prime Minister Martin Ziguele, an economist, heads the one-time ruling party, the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC). He has pledged to restore state authority and prosecute perpetrators of abuses.

Image source, AFP
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Former Prime minister Martin Ziguele is one of the leading presidential candidates

Fidele Gouandjika, a wealthy businessman with years of experience in previous governments, has struck a nationalistic chord with voters by calling for the country to be wrested "from the clutches" of France, the former colonial power.

Also in contention are two sons of former CAR leaders, Sylvain Patasse-Ngakoutou and Jean Serge Bokassa.

Former Humanitarian Action Minister Regina Konzi-Mongot is the only female candidate.

The Constitutional Court has cleared 30 candidates and rejected 14 others, including ousted President Francois Bozize and the "national co-ordinator" of the anti-Balaka militia, Patrice Edouard Ngaissona. The two are seen as the leaders of the Christian militia who were blamed for wide-scale massacres against the minority Muslim population.

Will the elections end the fighting?

Not likely. The exclusion of armed groups from the vote could possibly set the ground for conflict in the near future. There are estimated to be tens of thousands of fighters in a country of 4.8 million.

The militia, who have no formal command structures, do not respect state authority and have become increasingly belligerent.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Muslim Seleka militia seized the capital Bangui in 2013. A transitional administration has been in place since then
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Militia known as anti-Balaka formed in 2013 to counter the spread of the Seleka forces

The leader of a Seleka faction, "General" Noureddine Adam, had said there would be no voting in the autonomous republic which he declared in the mainly Muslim north.

However, after talks with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Chad just days before the election, he said he would "contribute positively and sincerely" to the poll and withdrew his call for a separate state.

The referendum on constitutional changes earlier this month was marred by violence.

Could it reignite the conflict?

The presence of UN and French troops has largely failed to stabilise the country. An election dispute is unlikely to trigger conflict on its own, but will feed into existing political tensions. Armed groups could take advantage of a fresh political stand-off and perpetrate violence.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
French and UN troops have been in place but violence has continued

How much territory do the Seleka still hold?

With Muslims displaced from most of the south, including the capital, support for the Seleka has been confined to the north-east and a few other pockets in the north.

The Seleka remain powerful in their heartland in the north-east.

Did the Pope's intervention make any difference?

Pope Francis ignored safety concerns to visit CAR last month.

As well as celebrating Mass, he gave a speech in a mosque, saying "Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters".

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The Pope appealed for peace during his visit to the Central African Republic at the end of November

But sectarian divisions remain deep in the country where some view Muslims as foreigners. Most of the leading candidates are Christians and even if they shy away from inflammatory rhetoric, are likely to pander to the Christian majority.

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