Algerian vote touted as fair, but voters apathetic
ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Less than half of Algeria's registered voters turned out for parliamentary elections Thursday, for a contest billed by authorities as the freest in decades.
The government announced late Thursday around 42 percent of voters cast their ballots, which was still a substantial increase over an anemic turnout of just 36 percent in 2007 elections. Final results are expected Friday.
A coalition of Islamist parties is hoping to replicate the election successes of other Islamists across North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings of 2011, but they face stiff competition from two government parties with deeply entrenched networks.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika spent the past several months urging Algerians to come out and vote, alternating promises of bold new reforms after elections with warnings that foreign powers might invade Algeria if there is a low turnout.
No party is expected to dominate the parliament, though for the government having close to a 50 percent turnout after years of voters ignoring the elections of the largely powerless body, represents a victory of sorts.
Turnout figures showed much higher rates of participation in rural areas and Algeria's desert south, compared to the cities. Government officials had originally predicted 45 percent turnout.
At one voting center in Algiers' working class neighborhood of Bab el-Oued, however, turnout at the close of the station was just between 25 and 30 percent.
Of those who did bother voting, 22 percent of the ballots were either void or defaced, with the Islamist "Green Alliance" coming in a close second.
Most Algerians, however, have shown little interest in the elections — if not outright scorn — citing a weak parliament and a history of rigged contests.
"These elections are nothing," said Marwan Bou Amama, 32, as he sat with friends on a hillside park overlooking Algiers' bay, not far from a voting station. "We here in Algeria, we live in a huge coffin. We are the living dead. At my age I should be married, I should have a house. It's a basic right."
Despite its hydrocarbon wealth, there is widespread dissatisfaction in the country and frequent demonstrations and riots over unemployment, poor utilities and lack of housing.
Unemployment is only officially at 10 percent, but rises to at least 20 percent among university graduates. About 70 percent of the population is under 35.
As polling stations opened, it was often elderly pensioners shuffling in to cast their ballot, many saying they had been voting since the country's independence in 1962, even though Algeria was a one party state until 1990.
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