By Hayam El Hadi
Polls opened across Algeria at 8am Thursday (May 10th), with nearly 21 million voters expected to take part in the historic legislative election.
Schools serving as polling stations across the nation’s 48 wilayas were subject to very high levels of security. No fewer than 60,000 police officers were posted in the areas around polling stations.
In Algiers, as the morning started, there were few signs of voters queuing up to cast their votes. National radio and television stations had continued to broadcast messages calling for a massive turnout. The fear of abstention had been a major concern right up to the eve of the election.
Speaking on Tuesday, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika urged the electorate to turn out in force. In the absence of any surveys, it was difficult to quantify the level of abstention before voting started.
At a polling station in the working class district of El Alia, east of Algiers, there was a moderate influx of voters at the start of the day. At that time, a few voters, generally the more elderly, had cast their ballot.
One such voter was Mohamed Bedina, a retired education worker who, having placed his voting slip in the ballot box, confessed to Magharebia that he was “voting out of a sense of duty”.
“I never miss an election. I’m doing it for Algeria, for my children, even though I’m not very convinced by the views of the people standing,” Bedina said. “I was also touched by the speech the President of the Republic gave, which reinforced my position.”
His view was not shared by the many youths around the district, apparently completely indifferent about the election. Mehdi Moula, one unemployed youth, said that voting was “a waste of time”.
“What’s the point in me voting so that MPs can get millions of dinars a month and forget the people who voted for them? I don’t have any illusions. I don’t have any hope,” he said.
But it is not just the youngest voters who have turned their backs on the election. Saléha Messaoudi, a 45-year-old public sector worker, explained to Magharebia she was “disappointed with the election campaign”. ”
I’ve always been in the habit of voting,” Messaoudi said, “but this time I want to send a strong message to those who govern us: Algerians are tired and want change.”
Mhoubi Djamel, a primary school teacher, said he feels the same way. “I’ve chosen not to vote out my own convictions,” he said. “There’s no chance of a change, and I can’t endorse the status quo. I don’t believe that, in a presidential system, Parliament is able to change anything.”
In a bid to counter the risk of abstention, the prime minister called on Algerians to “send out a clear message at the legislative elections to those who wonder about Algeria’s future”.
It was because of the risk of nonparticipation that the Algerian authorities stepped up their guarantees that the election would be run properly.
The whole operation is therefore being monitored by roughly 150 European Union observers, 200 from the African Union (AU), 130 from the Arab League, 20 from the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), seven from the UN, and representatives from an American NGO, the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
For the first time ever, the interior ministry decided to use transparent ballot boxes and indelible ink as an anti-fraud measure in an election where voters chose their future MPs from 25,800 candidates, of whom 7,647 were women. The candidates came from 44 political parties, 186 independent lists and a one political alliance.
To this end, 11,520 voting centres representing 48,546 polling stations and run by 404,167 specially trained officers were set up by the authorities in charge of organising the ballot. The official results will be announced on Friday morning by the interior minister.