Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - Made homeless and jobless by conflict, young Muslims displaced by sectarian violence who are now sleeping out in the Central African Republic's capital Bangui see Wednesday's elections as their only salvation.
The onetime drivers, mechanics, merchants and electricians found refuge in a mosque in Bangui's flashpoint Muslim PK-5 district after a September spike in violence drove them from their homes.
Their homes located by Christian neighbourhoods were looted and burnt down -- as were many Christian homes in tit-for-tat sectarian violence that month that killed 61 people and wounded more than 300 people.
Eager to vote in elections seen as turning the page on almost three years of such violence, the men this weekend turned up at the Koudoukou school to pick up voter cards ahead of the vote.
"I'm going to opt for an upright man as president, someone who doesn't steal. Someone who can ensure peace and security in the country, so we won't hear the sound of weapons," said Hissein Sale, an electrician.
Everyone agrees that reconciliation is the need of the hour.
"It is our duty to vote," said Mohamed.
Wednesday's much-delayed legislative and presidential elections follow a December 13 referendum that delivered a resounding 93 percent vote in favour of a new constitution -- signalling how much people yearn for a return to normalcy.
After more than two years of fighting that forced 10 percent of the population to flee their homeland, the vote will show whether the mineral-rich but dirt poor nation -- wracked by coups, dictatorships and endemic unrest since its 1960 independence from France -- can close the door on bloodshed.
- Fear still prevails -
But many PK-5 residents say they remain confined to the area as it is too dangerous to venture out.
"The Christians can come here but we cannot go to their areas. They decapitate us, they cut us up into pieces," said Mohamed Moustapha.
Moustapha, a driver, lost his licence during the latest upsurge in violence but does not dare try and get a new one as "it means venturing into the city centre where there are too many enemies."
Bachir Hissein meanwhile has tucked a formidable looking dagger in his belt but hastens to say he "does not cross the border" -- that is leave PK-5.
"We want a president who loves his country, works for reconciliation, reduces unemployment and raises the GDP" of one of the world's poorest countries, he said.
Almost 70 percent of people live in poverty, and in 2014 the World Bank estimated per capita income at $320 (295 euros).
UN peacekeepers have beefed up their presence in the district and Muslim troops from the country's 8,000-strong armed forces have been deployed here.
At the exit of PK-5, motorcycle taxis are lined up for clients near a barricade which leads to the 5th arrondisement, or district, inhabited mainly by Christians and patrolled by Christian vigilantes.
Preparations for the vote are far from perfect. Almost two million Central Africans have registered to vote in a population of 4.8 million.
The vote was originally supposed to be held on Sunday but was postponed because the ballot papers -- which were printed in France -- only reached Bangui on Thursday.
"Often, two or three cards are issued for the same person," said Madeleine Yapierre, the head of a polling station.
There are 30 candidates running for president and one of the front-runners Karim Mekassoua is Muslim "but that doesn't mean that we will all vote for him," said Camara Bouba.
"We will keep our choice secret," he said.
The other prominent candidates are Anicet Georges Dologuele, a former premier widely known as "Mr Clean" for his efforts to wipe out graft and theft, and Martin Ziguele, also a former premier.