Campaigning began on Thursday for Algeria's April 9 presidential election, amid criticism that current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika will most likely win a third term. The parliament voted last year to allow him to run again.
REUTERS - Campaigning began on Thursday for an Algerian presidential election widely seen as a one-horse race that will ensure President Abdelaziz Bouteflika a third term.
Government critics cried foul when parliament amended the north African OPEC member's constitution last year to allow the 72-year-old Bouteflika to seek another five-year mandate.
Well-known opposition figures are boycotting the April 9 poll and the fact that none of Bouteflika's five challengers has much chance raises the prospect of a low turnout that would underscore popular apathy towards formal politics.
Supporters say Bouteflika deserves the trust of the people for steering Africa's second-largest country back to stability after a civil conflict in the 1990s that claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.
"One two three, vive l'Algerie (long live Algeria)," chanted a crowd of around 8,000 packed into a sports hall in Batna, 430 km (270 miles) southeast of Algiers, for Bouteflika's first rally of the official campaign.
"Bouteflika is the only man who can help this country get out of its economic and social crisis," said 24-year-old bank employee Samia.
As the president prepared to speak, his supporters sang, danced and waved photos of their candidate.
"I came here for continuity -- I have no other manifesto," Bouteflika told them, smiling broadly. "Algeria was besieged. We managed to restore our dignity. We rebuilt what terrorism destroyed."
Lack of jobs
Algeria's economy relies heavily on oil and gas exports and investment in the non-oil sector is too weak to create enough jobs for an overwhelmingly young population, although Bouteflika has promised $150 billion for development spending if elected.
Analysts say it will be harder to defeat a remaining hard core of Al Qaeda-aligned insurgents and ensure long-term stability unless the government re-connects with young people who view the authorities as self-serving and out of touch.
Unemployment stands officially at 11 percent but is estimated at more than 70 percent among adults under 30 and a survey last year suggested that as many as half of Algerian young men are tempted by illegal emigration.
"Bouteflika is a good guy, but I am fed up with politics. Voting will bring no change, so why vote?", said Abdelghani Rezaki, a 35 year old national railway company employee.
Turnout in a 2007 legislative poll was 35 percent, the lowest of any Algerian election to date. The government has sent millions of mobile phone SMS messages urging people to vote next month, saying: "Don't let anyone decide for you".
Students living far from home will be allowed to vote near their university compounds and mosque imams have been asked to encourage the faithful to turn out on polling day.
Bouteflika's best-known opponent is Louisa Hanoune, leader of the leftist, secular Workers Party.
Date created : 2009-03-19