Leading candidates in C. Africa's key presidential vote

Christian Panika
Supporters hold a portrait of Central African Republic presidential candidate Anicet Georges Dologuele in Bangui (AFP Photo/Issouf Sanogo)

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - Thirty candidates are vying for the presidency in the volatile Central African Republic, including the son of a self-proclaimed emperor of a dirt-poor country who modelled his extravagant coronation on Napoleon's.

But neither the younger Bokassa nor two other sons of former leaders are among the front-runners in Wednesday's presidential and parliamentary polls, aimed at ending more than two years of sectarian violence that erupted after mainly Muslim rebels overthrew Christian leader Francois Bozize in 2013.

Bozize and Michel Djotodia, who seized power from him, have each been barred from seeking a new term in the mineral-rich country, wracked by coups, army mutinies and dictatorships since it gained independence from France in 1960.

Both men face international sanctions arising from conflict, while the most recent president, Catherine Samba-Panza, is not eligible to stand in the election after running a transitional regime.

- THE FAVOURITES -

Anicet Georges Dologuele

Widely known as "Mr Clean", Dologuele, 58, worked at the Bank of Central African States, serving six central African countries that form a monetary bloc, before being named prime minister, a job he held from 1998 to 2001 under President Ange-Felix Patasse.

Dologuele's term was marked by attempts to clean up murky public finances. His electoral campaign boasts his peaceful past and record as government chief in the Christian majority nation.

"At age 58, I have never held a weapon," he said recently.

"I'm still happy to recall that from 1996 until now, the only time there were no military or political crises in the country was during my time in office," he also said.

Dologuele headed the Development Bank of Central African States from 2001 until 2010 and then set up the Central African Union for Renewal party. His first bid for the highest office is supported by the party of Bozize, who has expressed anger at being prevented from standing again.

Martin Ziguele

"Iron Man" Ziguele, 58, is also a former prime minister, but he lived and worked in nearby Togo for decades before taking up a top job at the taxation department in his homeland.

Fluent in French, Spanish and English, Ziguele was named premier in 2001 and started cleaning up the corrupt customs service. He trained his guns on then chief of staff Bozize for corruption.

After General Bozize seized power in a March 2003 coup against Patasse, Ziguele remained a fiercely critical foe during 10 years in opposition.

Ziguele is running as a presidential candidate for a third time and is thought to be favoured by former colonial ruler France.

Abdoul Karim Meckassoua

A man who held senior government posts under Bozize, including that of foreign minister, the 62-year-old is considered to be among the ousted ruler's close allies.

Meckassoua comes from the Muslim minority in a nation where peace and tolerance reigned between Islam and Christianity until the last insurgency led to serious violence along religious lines.

Admired for having proved to be a competent and efficient administrator, Meckassoua is also known for his diplomatic skills.

A former member of parliament, he enjoys support among fellow Muslims while maintaining strong ties in Christian circles.

Meckassoua is contesting the election as an independent candidate from a constituency in the capital Bangui, which includes the flashpoint Muslim-majority PK-5 district.

- THE SONS -

Jean-Serge Bokassa

A son of self-proclaimed emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the 43-year-old was enrolled in a Swiss boarding school when his profligate father was toppled in 1979 after 13 years in power.

A first-time candidate, Bokassa contends that he was destined to have a political career.

Eugene Sylvain Ngakoutou Patasse

The 46-year-old son of the president who ruled from 1993 to 2003, Patasse works in the diamond industry. He has no political experience and is running as an independent.

Desire Nzanga Bilal Kolingba

The eldest son of former military dictator Andre Kolingba who ruled from 1981 to 1993, the 59-year-old studied economics in Canada and the United States and held ministerial posts in Bozize's government.

Kolingba, who has converted to Islam, is running for president for the first time.