The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo go to the polls on 28 November to choose a president and a parliament, in the second elections since long-term leader Mobutu Sese Seko was ousted in 1997.
Pre-election violence and doubts about the election authority's ability to get everything ready on time have raised fears of further tension in an already volatile country.
Conflict is still a major problem in eastern regions, poverty is widespread and the country's infrastructure is in ruins after years of colonial rule, mismanagement and civil war.
What is the significance of these elections?
The last elections, in 2006, were part of a UN-supported transition which was meant to move the country on from a phase that included a lengthy dictatorship and a subsequent civil war.
These elections are a crucial test and are likely to indicate whether DR Congo is on course to consolidate its fledgling democracy or return to a state of widespread instability, according to the International Crisis Group, an organisation which aims to prevent conflict.
''Second elections are vital to consolidate democratic peace gains in the country, complete a full electoral cycle and strengthen democratic institutions,'' says an ICG director, Thierry Vircoulon.
What happened in the previous poll?
The elections in 2006 were described as the first free polls in 40 years, with donors and the UN peacekeeping mission playing a central role in the election process. International observers considered the vote generally free and fair, and devoid of major violence. There were some clashes between the troops under the control of President Joseph Kabila and supporters of his rival Jean-Pierre Bemba, who disputed the official outcome.
Mr Kabila received 58% of the second round of the presidential vote and Mr Bemba 42%. The turnout was 70% of 25 million voters.
What are the chances of post-election violence?
There has been some violence in the campaign period, which has prompted the UN Security Council to issue a call for "credible and peaceful" elections. Several organisations - including the ICG and local groups - were sufficiently worried to make a joint appeal to the Congolese and international actors involved to take ''urgent measures to prevent electoral violence, better protect civilians and ensure credible, free and fair elections''.
''Without elections that meet free and fair standards, as well as a strong international and local observation presence to build confidence in the electoral process, the risk of electoral dispute and violence is high,'' said the signatories to the appeal published by the ICG.
There are fears that demobilised militia are being pulled back into the bush to get ready for a fresh conflict. Henri Ladyi, director of the Centre Resolution Conflits in DR Congo, was quoted by the The Observer in London as saying: ''The election motivates many people and many armed groups to go back to using guns as a way to try and gain power... Many ex-combatants are going back to the bush now: Violence is what they know.''
What is the likelihood that the elections will be free and fair?
Opposition politicians and analysts inside the country have expressed concern about the make-up of the electoral commission, and there have been reports that the electoral roll has been tampered with and includes "ghost voters". The electoral commission says it has registered 32 million voters and denies opposition accusations of massive fraud.
Who are presidential candidates?
Eleven candidates have been registered.
President Joseph Kabila - independent
Joseph Kabila inherited power from his father Laurent, who launched the rebellion which ousted Mobutu Sese Seko in the late 1990s and ran the country until he was assassinated in 2001. Joseph Kabila stepped into his father's shoes and headed a fractious government of national unity before being elected in 2006.
His biggest advantage in these elections is his incumbency which gives him an unassailable headwind, some observers say. He used his parliamentary majority to abolish the second round of the presidential election, which means that he only needs more votes than any other candidate to win.
The opposition is fractured and has failed to agree on a single candidate, giving Mr Kabila an added advantage.
"Who will win the elections? There is one thing of which I am sure and certain, and that is that I will not lose them," Mr Kabila told a press conference in Kinshasa. Asked if he would step aside in case of defeat, he said: "The answer is yes".
Etienne Tshisekedi - Union pour la Democratie et le Progres Social/Tshisekedi
Mr Tshisekedi has been the country's foremost opposition leader for years. He served under Mobutu but was one of the few to challenge him.
He is thought to be banking on the people's desire for political change, but elements which could count against him are his advanced age (79) and his involvement in the Mobutu dictatorship.
In a recent radio broadcast he unilaterally declared himself president and said that if the government did not release his supporters arrested during recent protests within 48 hours, he would "call on fighters across the country to break down prison doors and release their comrades." The authorities have accused him of inciting violence.
Vital Kamerhe - Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC)
Mr Kamerhe is a former parliamentary speaker, who served as information minister in 2003 and 2004 in the transitional government.
He served under Mobutu and is accused of being a Mobutu supporter in his youth. He later joined the opposition and then served under President Joseph Kabila before setting up his own party last year.
Kengo wa Dondo - Union des Forces du Changement (UFC)
He is current president of the senate. He served as prime minister under Mobutu, resigning shortly before the Mobutu government fell.
Francois Joseph Mobutu Nzanga - Union des Democrates Mobutistes (Udemo)
He is the son of the late president. He served as labour minister until March 2011.
Jean Andeka Djamba - Alliance des Nationalistes Croyants Congolais (ANCC)
Nicephore Kakese - Union pour le Reveil et le Developpement du Congo (URDC)
Oscar Kashala - Union pour la Reconstruction du Congo (UREC)
Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi (Independent)
Adam Bombole (Independent)
Alex Josue Mukendi Kamama (Independent)
Guide prepared by BBC Monitoring, which selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.