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Algerians Await Presidential Election Results - 2004-04-08

Algerians are waiting to find out the results of Thursday's presidential elections which pits the country's leader, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, against five other candidates. For the first time, Algerians believe, the outcome may not be predetermined by the country's powerful military.

Mr. Bouteflika's rivals warn this presidential election, like many others in Algeria's past, will be marred by fraud. Polls closed at 8 p.m. locally, and as of late Thursday, no major incidents had been reported, apart from low-level clashes between ethnic Berbers and police in the country's restive region of Kabylia.

Many Algerians hope this vote will mark a watershed for the country, a slow turn to multiparty democracy. For the first time, says 32-year-old Algiers physician Sid-Ahmed El Aichoaoui, his vote might actually count.

Algerians have long been cynical about the election process, convinced the country's powerful military basically picked its presidential candidate, and controlled the outcome down to the last percentage point he would win by.

This time, the military says it will remain on the sidelines. And President Bouteflika may even face a run-off vote, against his former prime minister and top rival, Ali Benflis.

The other candidates in the race include a member of a tiny Algerian workers party, a Berber candidate from Kabylia, and Louisa Hanoune, Algeria's first female presidential candidate.

Results of the election aren't expected until very late Thursday, and probably won't be announced officially early Friday. Analysts say those results will give a real indication of how fair the election was.