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Algerians Prepare for Parliamentary Elections - 2002-05-28


Elections are scheduled Thursday in Algeria, with 10,000 candidates seeking 380 seats in the country's parliament. Observers say the election is crucial because the Algerian government needs political legitimacy following 10 years of Islamic rebellion.

The Algerian government says more than 100,000 people have been killed in an Islamic insurgency that began in January 1992 when authorities scrapped the results of a general election, which Islamic fundamentalists were poised to win. Independent sources say as many as 150,000 Algerians have died.

The government voided the election results, alleging there was voter fraud and that more than one million Algerians did not receive ballots.

This Thursday, Algerians will return to the polls for parliamentary elections.

Two main opposition parties are urging voters to boycott the elections. But, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has urged Algerians to vote, saying the election is "a matter of life and death" in solving the country's social and economic problems.

Abdel Moneim Sa'id is the head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He said he believes much of Algeria's violence is the result of a 30 percent unemployment rate, and what he calls "the government's inability to create new development." "Because of the violence, and even before violence erupted, you have a problem regarding development and huge numbers of unemployed people," he says. "So you have a country so broken and its mind is torn apart in different directions. So Algeria has a lot of problems to solve and probably the most basic problem is an inability to collect their actions together and have a minimum type of political agreement to face these problems."

He said Algerian young people are becoming increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with the prospects for their future. Sevent percent of Algeria's population of 31 million is under the age of 30.

Several recent newspaper polls in Algeria suggest more than one-third of voters do not intend to cast ballots, either because they said they will heed calls to boycott the elections or the elections do not interest them. Algeria's ambassador to Egypt, Slimane Chikh, says this week's elections are critical for Algeria's future.

Mr. Chikh says the elections are important because they will help stabilize what he calls "the deteriorating problems Algerians are facing and reinforce stability in the country." He says, "if Algerians do not trust the government's ability to solve its problems, it will lead to anarchy."

Regarding the past 10 years of deadly violence, Mr. Chikh says Algerian security forces are protecting the population. But he says the country's rugged, mountainous, terrain makes it impossible for security forces to protect everyone.

Mr. Chikh says Islamic fundamentalists want to "transform Algeria into an Islamic state". He says to do so would violate the country's constitution that calls for "religious and government separation".

During the past week, Algerian Islamic rebels killed 14 pro-government militiamen and soldiers in two separate ambushes near the capital, Algiers. Three weeks ago, 15 government soldiers were killed when a military convoy ran into a bomb, which the government says was planted by Islamic rebels. The government says the attacks are intended to disrupt the May 30 elections.