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Algeria vote turnout expected higher than in 2007

Algerians voted on Thursday in the first parliamentary elections since last year's Arab Spring revolutions, with turnout expected to be slightly higher than 2007's record low of 35 percent. Officials said they received complaints of irregularities.


AFP - Algeria Thursday held its first polls since the Arab Spring, with an official turnout figure poised to belie deep voter disaffection over the prospect of a political status quo.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's National Liberation Front (FLN), the former single party, and its two government allies, including the country's main legal Islamist party, were confident of victory ahead of the polls.

Foreign observers said the legislative election process was marred only by minor incidents but the electoral commission said it had received many complaints of irregularities.

Speaking on state television with a framed picture of 75-year-old Bouteflika behind him when polling officially closed, Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said 34.95 percent had voted by 1630 GMT.

Algerians expect little from the election

That paves the way for a significantly higher turnout than the historical low of 35 percent recorded in 2007, but many Algerians are deeply suspicious of official figures.

Many polling stations in Algiers seemed largely deserted and the overwhelming majority of voters were elderly but the state reported the highest turnout in the vast country's remote border regions.

Bouteflika, who was a minister in Algeria's first independent government in 1962, said earlier this week that the polls should mark the rise of a new generation.

In Bab El Oued, the beating heart of Algiers, the narrow tree-lined streets winding down to the seafront were unusually silent and the youth's mood was one of bitter resignation.

"I switch on the TV set and I see election coverage on the state channel. It's like news from a foreign country," said Mohamed, a 30-year-old employed by a water delivery company.

'It's not Algeria, it's the land of those people in power'

In messages exchanged on Facebook in the run-up to the vote, some young Algerians were wishing one another a "happy no-vote day" and enjoying a day off or making plans for an extended weekend at the beach.

The secretary general of Bouteflika's National Liberation Front, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, said last week that 45 percent would be a satisfactory rate.

The regime has tried to assuage fears of fraud by inviting some 500 foreign election observers but Algeria is four times the size of France and few voters seemed convinced.

The head of the European Union obseration mission, Jose Ignacio Salafranca, told reporters that polling was conducted in "generally satisfactory" conditions.

The Algerian electoral commission said it had received dozens of complaints, including some concerning two ministers who are accused of campaigning around polling stations and now face legal proceedings.

Algeria has witnessed more self-immolations than Tunisia since 2011 and many people cannot understand how a state with foreign exchange reserves of $182 billion does not do more to improve their lives.

Social discontent and deadly riots rattled Algeria in January 2011 when popular revolts were spreading across the region but the regime snuffed out the protests with a sprinkling of political reforms and pay rises.

Forty-four parties – 21 of them newly created – are battling for seats in an enlarged 462-strong parliament, in what Bouteflika has hailed as "the dawn of a new era".

His FLN party has been steadily losing ground since pluralism was introduced in 1989 and has 136 seats in the outgoing assembly.

Belkhadem said the FLN would remain the top party but it is expected to share power.

The FLN is currently in a coalition with the National Rally for Democracy of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), a moderate Islamist party loyal to the regime.

The MSP hopes it can cash in on the so-called "Green wave" that swept Islamists to the helm in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt in the wake of the Arab Spring.

But it lacks credibility with the radical Islamist base and is often described as a token party created by the regime to occupy the religious ground.

Many Algerians believe the country had its own, failed Arab Spring when the one-party system ended and the now banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won the first round of the ensuing 1991 election, considered the last free polls.

The army interrupted the vote, sparking a brutal decade-long civil war that left around 200,000 people dead.

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