Algerians vote amid bomb fears

Algerians, shaken by suicide bombings in the capital last month, voted on Thursday for a new Parliament that is expected to remain dominated by the three parties of the governing coalition.

Attacks by Islamist groups have threatened the North African country’s attempts to rebuild after years of political bloodshed and police searched voters as they entered polling stations.

In the crowded Bab El Oued district of Algiers, state bank employee Mohammed Kemmeche said: “These elections will not change the situation. But I am voting to express my opposition to criminals who don’t want to stop killing Algerians.”

The Presidency is the most powerful office of state in Algeria, a supplier of oil and gas to North America and Europe. Algerians regard Parliament as subservient to the executive.

In the Casbah, the crumbling Turkish-era old city where French paratroopers fought pro-independence guerrillas in the 1957 Battle of Algiers, some voters appeared upbeat.

“I am here because I want to take part in boosting national reconciliation.
Our country also needs to launch a real war on poverty and unemployment,” said middle-aged woman Aicha Bachi.

In the Saharan south, blue-robed Touareg tribesmen voted in temperatures near 40 degrees Celsius, state television showed.

The poll to choose the 389 members of the lower House of Parliament is the third since an Islamist revolt erupted after the cancellation of a national election in January 1992, which a now-outlawed Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win.

Up to 200 000 people have been killed in political violence since then.

The violence has dropped sharply in recent years, but lingers on. A triple bombing claimed by al-Qaeda killed 33 in Algiers on April 11. One policeman was killed when two small bombs exploded in the eastern city of Constantine on Wednesday.

Al-Qaeda’s North Africa wing has called on Algerians to boycott the election, which it condemned as a “farce”.

More than 10 000 voting stations will close at 8pm local time. Final results will be announced on Friday.

Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni told reporters: “People must vote, because voting means that you are against terrorism. You can vote for whomever you want, but vote.”

Early turnout was low, with 6% of voters having cast their ballots by 10am compared with 11% at the same time in the previous elections in 2002, officials said.

Assembly ‘can help’ with problems

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika voted near his home in Algiers’ upscale El Biar district. He made no comment.

The National Liberation Front (FLN) is expected to keep its position as the largest single party, and the pro-government Rally for National Democracy (RND) is likely to take second place. They are part of a ruling coalition with the Movement of Society for Peace, a moderate Islamist party.

Algeria has amassed $80-billion in foreign exchange reserves thanks to high oil and gas prices. The government plans to spend $140-billion to build schools, roads, hospitals and railways.

But the non-energy sector, where provides most jobs, remains dominated by inefficient, overmanned state-owned firms unable to compete regionally let alone internationally, Algerians say.

Social problems are still Algerians’ main concern, with unemployment among adults under 30 at a dismal 75%.

Standing in line to vote in Ouled el Fayet, Fatima Hadj (43) said: “Our Parliament isn’t powerful enough to make important decisions. But I don’t want to opt for boycott because the national assembly can help resolve our social problems.—Reuters

Client Media Releases

Call for papers opens for ITWeb Cloud, Data Summit & DevOps Summit 2020
The world awaits Thandi Hlotshana