Algerians vote amid anger over economy

Thursday May 04 2017
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Algerians vote amid anger over economy. Agency Photo

Algerians will vote for a new parliament Thursday as the government grapples with soaring unemployment and a deep financial crisis caused by a collapse in oil revenues.

But despite the urgent problems facing the North African country, candidates have found a public disillusioned by an opaque political system and what many see as the government's failure to keep its promises.

Officials, fearing a low turnout, have spent weeks urging voters to take part in the poll.

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal called for a "massive vote", urging women to wake their husbands early, refuse them coffee and "drag" them to the polling stations.

"If they resist, hit them with a stick," he told an all-female audience in the eastern city of Setif.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been confined to a wheelchair since a 2013 stroke impaired his speech and mobility, has said a strong turnout was essential for "the stability of the country".


The authorities have even used mosques to spread the message, with imams urging Algerians to vote.

But voters have showed little enthusiasm.

In a video posted online days before polling day and seen by more than two million people, one Algerian said government vows to solve an acute housing shortage and improve health care had not been kept.

Sellal on Saturday urged those angry about the state of the economy "to be patient".

"There is no more money" in state coffers, he admitted in a speech reported by local media.

In 2011, high oil revenues allowed huge rises in wages and subsidies, helping Algeria to weather the Arab Spring.

But a 2014 collapse in crude oil prices forced the government to increase taxes and mothball many public projects.

In a country of 40 million, half of them aged under 30, one young person in three is unemployed.

Despite that, Bouteflika's National Liberation Front (FLN) party is expected to keep its majority in parliament along with its coalition ally, the Rally for National Democracy (RND).

In the 2012 election, the FLN, which has ruled Algeria since independence in 1962, won 221 seats in the 462-seat People's National Assembly.

Islamists, who hold 60 seats in the outgoing parliament, represent the country's main opposition force.

In the last election, held a year after Arab Spring-inspired street protests, they had hoped to replicate the gains of their peers in Egypt and Tunisia.

Instead, they suffered their worst ever electoral defeat.

This year, they have formed two major coalitions in an attempt to do better.

But since Algeria adopted a multi-party system in 1989, the opposition has regularly accused the ruling parties of electoral fraud.

Turnout has often been low, registering 43.14 percent in 2012 -- slightly higher than the 35.65 percent recorded in 2007.

Even those figures, experts say, were inflated.