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Algerians vote amid anger over economy

Algeria weathered the Arab Spring but has faced economic difficulties [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 May, 2017

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Algeria opened its polling stations on Thursday, amid soaring unemployment and a deep financial crisis caused by a collapse in oil revenues.
Algerians voted for a new parliament on Thursday, amid soaring unemployment and a deep financial crisis caused by a collapse in oil revenues.

Some 45,000 police officers were deployed to guard more than 53,000 polling stations across the country.

Polls are due to close at 7 pm (1800 GMT) and the first results are expected late on Friday morning.

Officials, fearing a low turnout, have spent weeks urging people to vote.

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 used a wheelchair and rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke, has said a strong turnout was essential for "the stability of the country".

A total of 12,000 candidates are standing for 462 seats in the People's National Assembly, with a registered electorate of 23 million.

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

But voters have shown little enthusiasm.

Streets in Algiers were somewhat deserted on Thursday morning - although polling stations were expected to be busier in the afternoon.

Despite the urgent challenges facing the country, candidates have struggled to inspire voters disillusioned by what many see as a stagnant political system and the government's failure to keep its promises.

The North African country weathered the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings with massive spending on wages and subsidies that depleted government coffers.

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

Today, in a country of 40 million where half the population is under 30, one young person in three is unemployed.

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

"There is no more money" in state coffers, he said in a speech on Saturday.

In a video posted online days before polling day and seen by more than two million people, one Algerian said the government had broken its promises to tackle an acute housing shortage and improve health care.

Despite that, Bouteflika's National Liberation Front (FLN) and its coalition ally, the Rally for National Democracy (RND), are expected to keep their majority in parliament.

In the 2012 election, the FLN, which dominated Algerian politics since independence in 1962, won 221 of the 462 seats in parliament.

Islamists, who held 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 electoral alliances in bids to do better.

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

Turnout has often been low, registering 43.14 percent in 2012 and 35.65 percent in 2007.

Even those figures were inflated, experts say.

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