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Algerians vote in local polls to seal post-Bouteflika ‘change’



Algerians vote in local polls to seal post-Bouteflika ‘change’

Algerians began voting on Saturday in local elections seen as key in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s push to turn the page in the two-decade rule of the late President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

But despite official campaigns urging Algerians to “make their mark,” voting for municipal and provincial councils has sparked little public interest.

The election is the third vote in Algeria under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika, an autocrat who ruled the country for two decades.

Observers predict low turnout, as with the poorly attended elections since Bouteflika was ousted from power by Hirak’s pro-democracy protest movement in April 2019.

The rulers of the North African country are trying “to impose their will despite the shameful results of the previous elections,” analyst Mohamed Hennad said.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) and are scheduled to close at 7:00 pm.

More than 23 million people are eligible to vote, with 15,230 candidates standing and the results are expected on Sunday.

The campaign has been silenced despite calls by the authorities to Algerians to participate if they “want change” and “institutional development.”

Tebboune was elected in a controversial and widely boycotted 2019 vote months after Bouteflika resigned under pressure from the army and demonstrations from Hirak.

He has vowed to break away from local and regional elections marred by widespread allegations of fraud in the era of Bouteflika, who died in September at the age of 84.

In a televised interview on Friday, Tebboune, the late autocrat’s former prime minister, called on Algerians to actively participate in the vote.

“If people want change, it’s time they did something about it themselves by voting,” he said.

– ‘Big challenges’ – Algeria’s local assemblies elect two-thirds of the members of the upper house of the national parliament, and the president appoints the rest.

Redouane Boudjemaa, a journalism professor at the University of Algiers, said the vote was simply “an attempt to clean the facade of the local councils by changing their members, to the benefit of the ruling class.”

“Politics at the moment is limited to slogans proclaiming that the country has entered a new era, while all indicators point to the contrary.”

The Tebboune government has seen an offensive against journalists and Hirak activists, even as it has packaged important political measures as responses to the protest movement’s calls for reform.

He has also faced a diplomatic crisis with Algeria’s colonial ruler, France, and is embroiled in a diplomatic crisis with neighboring Morocco, with whom Algiers broke diplomatic relations in August over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

But in his televised remarks on Friday, Tebboune said that “these relations must return to normal as long as the other party (France) conceives them on an equal footing, without provocation.”

Analyst Hennad said that the elite in power since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, were using slogans around change to impose their agenda, without actually involving other political forces.

Tebboune pushed for an amended constitution in November 2020, approved by less than 24 percent of the electorate, and oversaw a parliamentary election in which only 23 percent of voters participated.

Despite a declared boycott by the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), party activists are on independent lists, setting up a showdown with the rival Socialist Forces Front (FFS) in the Kabylie region which often sees abstentions significant.

The head of the electoral board, Mohamed Charfi, has highlighted the efforts of the body to boost participation.

But Boudjemaa said the main problem at stake was the “huge economic and social challenges of the coming year”, warning that Algeria’s purchasing power could “collapse”.

“Various indicators show that the pouvoir (ruling elite) has neither the vision nor the strategy to respond to the crisis,” he said.

Source Credit: TheGuardian

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