Algerians go to the polls on Thursday to cast their ballots in a
presidential election. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is running for re-election
in a vote that some opposition parties are boycotting.
President Bouteflika has been the leading candidate since the
constitution was changed to allow him to stand for a third consecutive
While officially running as an independent, he
has been endorsed by Algeria's three largest political parties, which
together control more than 80 percent of the seats in parliament.
elected in 1999, President Bouteflika has focused mainly on national
security concerns and the threat of Islamic extremism. He offered
widespread pardons to repentant terrorists and security forces, calling
himself the "architect of national reconciliation".
But with the
decline in the price of oil and natural gas, which accounts for about
one-third of Algeria's gross domestic product, Mr. Bouteflika
increasingly has turned to broader social issues. In this year's
campaign, he is promising to raise Algeria's minimum wage, create new
jobs, build more affordable housing and write off debts owed by
Algerian driver Abdulkadir Benhudia says the economy is the biggest issue for voters.
says life is so expensive that many men in their 30s and 40s have no
homes, no jobs and no money to get married. He says he hopes that
politicians will improve the situation. But he wonders how much will
really change if the same leaders are re-elected.
is facing five challengers, including the first Algerian woman to run
for president, Louisa Hanoune. She is the secretary general of the
Algerian Workers' Party and is campaigning for a more inclusive,
University student Shema Arbia says women are ignored in Algeria.
says she hopes the election will improve conditions for young women who
she says have no value in society. She says self-interested
politicians have done nothing to help young people, so many younger
voters see the election as meaningless.
Two of Algeria's leading
opposition parties are boycotting the ballot, including the Movement
for Culture and Democracy, which is flying a black flag in front of its
party headquarters instead of the Algerian flag. Party President Said
Sadi says they are mourning democracy.
Al-Qaida's North Africa
wing is also urging Algerians to stay away from the polls. Al-Qaida in
the Islamic Maghreb began as an insurrection against Algeria's secular
military rulers after the government canceled the second round of
parliamentary elections in 1992, when it appeared that a coalition of
Islamist groups might take power.
The group claimed
responsibility for a series of bombings in Algeria last year and says
it is holding several foreign hostages, including a United Nations
special representative who was kidnapped in Niger.
security concerns surrounding this week's vote, there have been no
major rallies or parades. All campaigning has been indoors in private
homes or community and sports centers.
More than 20,000,000 Algerians are registered to vote. The Arab League has 87 electoral observers on hand.
Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, who is leading 100 observers from the
African Union, says he is impressed by the openness of the
electoral process so far and that he is watching to see how freely the
nation's media will be allowed to report results.
While polls in
most of Algeria do not open until Thursday morning, desert nomads in
southern Algeria began voting on Saturday. So too did hundreds of
thousands of expatriates, the vast majority of whom live in France
where they cast their ballots at more than 100 polling stations across
Results are expected on Friday. Most election
observers expect President Bouteflika to win far more than the 50
percent of the vote required to avoid a second round of balloting.