Algeria’s ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika voted on Thursday in a presidential election which he is widely expected to win despite his frail health and rare public appearances.
Bouteflika has rarely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke last year. Unable to campaign, he delegated that task to a team of loyalists who claim that the ageing leader is well enough to govern.
Shortly after polling stations opened, clashes broke out in the north between security forces and youths seeking to disrupt the ballot by ransacking voting stations in three localities in the Kabylie region. In all, 41 people were wounded, including 28 policemen.
According to local sources, voting was temporarily suspended in the affected stations.
At midday, Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz insisted the election was taking place "in good conditions in the 50,000 voting centres" across the country. In early afternoon, the turnout was reported at 23.25 percent.
The oil and gas-rich North African nation has been rocked by small riots and protests over housing and food costs, but the opposition remains divided and unable to challenge the dominance of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN). The state has spent heavily on subsidies and social programmes to ward off Arab Spring-style protests and build support among voters afraid of political changes.
"Stability" above all
After 15 years in power, the wheelchair-bound Bouteflika is the firm favourite and Algerian newspapers said the vote outcome was a foregone conclusion.
"Bouteflika is seen by many as a man who brought peace and stability to Algeria after a decade-long and very deadly civil war in the 1990s (…) People are very nervous about what would happen after Bouteflika, what would happen if there were political change," reports FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Algiers, Catherine Norris-Trent.
Of the five candidates running against Bouteflika, his former prime minister, Ali Benflis, has mounted the most vigorous campaign. He has warned that he has placed observers in each of the 60,000 polling stations across the country and he and his supporters will not be silent if there is fraud.
"Benflis managed to get support from young people, even in the south of Algeria, in the Kabyle regions, and some Islamist groups, although other opposition parties are boycotting the vote," says Norris-Trent.
After casting his vote on Thursday afternoon, Benflis again warned of a high risk of fraud in the elections.
Many of the 23 million registered voters, especially younger ones, are not expected to turn out to vote. AP news agency reported on Thursday that most voters in central Algiers were elderly retirees who said that stability was a key factor in their decision.
The results are expected at the earliest on Friday.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-17