Algeria holds presidential vote despite push for boycott

Turnout expected to be low with protesters saying election is designed to preserve the status quo.

    Algiers, Algeria – Polls opened on Thursday in a controversial presidential election with critics saying all candidates should be purged because of their ties to the unpopular former government.

    It was the first vote since former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced out after a two-decade-long rule in April in the wake of nationwide peaceful protests.

    The vote was twice deferred since the unprecedented leaderless protest movement, known as Hirak, erupted in February.

    More:

    • Defiant Algerian protesters reject December presidential vote

    • Algerian army chief: Won’t back any leader in presidential polls

    • Algeria: Bouteflika’s brother sentenced to 15 years in prison

    Polls opened at 07:00 GMT and close at 21:00 GMT, though that can be extended. Preliminary results are expected to be announced from 23:00 GMT onwards. 

    To win the election, a candidate must secure more than 50 percent of the votes cast. If no one manages to do that, the two leading candidates then go to a run-off in a few weeks’ time.

    More than 24 million people are eligible to vote, but many were expected to stay at home to boycott the election they say is designed to preserve the status quo.

    Demonstrators say no election can be free or fair as long as the old guard remain in power and the military continues to be involved in the country’s political life.

    Mohamed Kirat from Qatar University said the demonstrators from the beginning of the uprising wanted “radical change of the political system”, but that has failed to materialise.

    “The five candidates for the presidency are from the former regime, so what kinds of things are they going to bring to their agenda?” Kirat told Al Jazeera.

    “There are so many chances to manipulate the vote and that is why people don’t want to go. I don’t think we will have more than 50 percent of people voting today.” 

    Protests expected

    Overseas, the electoral procedure began last Saturday.

    In several French cities, including Paris, Algerian protesters staged anti-election sit-ins in front of polling booths.

    According to the Algeria’s independent election monitoring authority (ANIE), which was created in September to oversee the vote, 20 percent out of the 900,000 Algerians living abroad already voted. 

    Demonstrators are determined to have Thursday’s election cancelled too.

    On Wednesday – the anniversary of the outbreak of major demonstrations against the French colonial power in Algeria in 1960 – thousands of Algerians flooded the streets of the capital to reject the presidential vote.

    The anti-riot forces violently dispersed the demonstration, injuring dozens of people.

    Despite the nine-month-long protest movement, the army has touted the election as the only way out of the political crisis, and urged voters to turn out in large numbers.

    Five candidates are running to replace Bouteflika for a five-year-long term: former prime ministers Ali Benflis and Abdelamajid Tebboune; former tourism minister Abdelakader Bengrina; former culture minister Azzedine Mihoubi; and head of the el Moutstakbal party Abdelaziz Belaid.

    But all are seen as “part of the ruling establishment”, according to critics.


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