Algeria is holding its first parliamentary election since a 2019 uprising. There are 24 million eligible voters, but the woman-led Hirak movement is boycotting it, citing repression and “old guard” networks.
Algerians headed to polling stations on Saturday for the country’s first parliamentary election since former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was ousted.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune shrugged off boycott calls and low turnout prognoses, urging “every Algerian” to express “his opinion” as he cast his vote on the outskirts of the capital Algiers.
He called the election in February — bringing it forward from 2022 — after returning from medical treatment in Germany and publicly thanking its President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The election of 407 parliamentarians for five years was called amid renewed reform protests.
Once-governing Algerian parties urged a big turnout, but two main parties in Algeria’s Berber Kabylie region issued boycott calls as did many members of the loosely-knit Hirak protest movement, citing potential fraud.
Samir Belarbi, a prominent figure of Hirak, which has long advocated a purge of Algeria’s army-backed elite, said “elections will not give the regime legitimacy.”
Contesting Saturday’s election, the first since Abdelaziz Bouteflika was replaced by Tebboune, after unrest in 2019, were the once-governing National Liberation Front ((FLN), and Islamist parties, split into five factions.
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Only a trickle
At Algiers ballot stations Saturday morning only a trickle of people were seen entering. At Bejaia and Tizi Ouzon in Kabylie most polling stations were closed.
Last November, a referendum on disputed constitutional changes drew only 23% of eligible voters.
Saturday’s polling was due to close at 7 pm local time with results due in coming days.
Deploring pre-election clampdowns that saw seven leading dissidents and journalists detained last Thursday, Said Salhi, deputy head of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) said “these elections have no democratic value.”
“These arrests mark a chilling escalation in the Algerian authorities’ clampdown on the rights to freedom of expression and associated,” Amnesty International said, adding that more than 200 people had been detained.
Algeria, Africa’s fourth-largest economy, which fought for independence from France in 1962, is still heavily dependent on oil revenues.
These have slumped during the global pandemic-induced economic slowdown, with foreign currency reserves down four-fifths on Algeria’s holdings in 2013.
Unemployment stands, officially, at more than 12%, according to World Bank data.
ipj/aw (dpa, Reuters, AFP)