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Algeria election gets low turnout after boycotting

by The Associated Press | June 13, 2021 at 4:42 a.m.
A man looks at electoral posters in Algiers, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Algerians are preparing for the June 12 elections to elect members of parliament. (AP Photo/Toufik Doudou)

ALGIERS, Algeria -- Algerians on Saturday voted for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a "new Algeria."

Tension surrounded the voting in the gas-rich North African nation. Activists and opposition parties boycotted, and voter turnout was low midway through the day.

Authorities have tightened the screws on the Hirak protest movement in recent weeks, with police stopping weekly marches and arresting dozens of people, the latest a Hirak figure and two journalists. The three prominent opposition figures, including journalist Khaled Drareni, a press freedom advocate, were freed early Saturday, three days after their arrests, the National Committee for the Liberation of the Detained said.

The early election is supposed to exemplify President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's "new Algeria," with an emphasis on young candidates and those outside the political elite. A huge number of candidates -- over 20,000 -- were running for the 407-seat legislature, once dominated by a two-party alliance considered unlikely to maintain its grip on parliament. Islamist parties all offered candidates.

It's the first legislative election since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced from office in 2019 after 20 years in power after protests over corruption, joblessness and repression. Tebboune was elected eight months later, vowing to remake Africa's largest country but with no sign of abandoning the preeminent though shadowy role of the army in governance.

"We are looking for change," voter Mohammed Touait said at a polling station. "I am 84 years old, and today I woke up at 8 a.m. because I still have hope for change."

The Constitutional Council announced Saturday that it would be 15 days before results of the balloting are known because of the number of candidates and the need to ensure against fraud, which marked past elections.

The president, at the start of the day, brushed off as irrelevant the number of people who vote.

"What is important is that those the people vote for have sufficient legitimacy," Tebboune said after casting his ballot in Algiers.

The president also brushed off boycotts by the main opposition parties and Hirak supporters. Photos on social media showed images of some voting stations in the Kabylie region, east of Algiers. Kabylie, home of Berbers, is a traditional bastion of the opposition.

Women make up half the candidates for the first time, among efforts to make a fresh start. But women have been largely invisible from the campaign -- their faces often blurred or concealed in campaign posters.

Candidates had just 20 days to campaign, and Algerian media said real debate on major issues of concern, like unemployment, was mostly absent.

"With such a slew of candidates, the calculation of power is simple: to elect a patchwork assembly, without a majority, which will allow the president to create his own parliamentary majority with which he will govern," said political scientist Rachid Grime.

Many candidates couldn't afford campaign posters. Independent candidates like Djamel Maafa, a former TV producer, used social networks to spread his message for lack of access to the funds and logistical structure of big parties.

Parties supporting the Hirak movement called for a boycott because they want a more fundamental political transition.

"Elections in Algeria have always proved that they are not the solution. The solution lies in democratic transition; it also lies in a dialogue around a table in order to solve the crisis," said activist Sofiane Haddadji.

Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune speaks to the press after casting his vote in the country's first legislative elections sine the ouster of ex-president Bouteflika, at the Ahmed Ouroua school, in Algiers, Algeria, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Algerians vote Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a "new Algeria." (AP Photo)
Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune speaks to the press after casting his vote in the country's first legislative elections sine the ouster of ex-president Bouteflika, at the Ahmed Ouroua school, in Algiers, Algeria, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Algerians vote Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a "new Algeria." (AP Photo)
FILE - In this July 2, 2020 file photo, activist Karim Tabbou flashes a victory sign as he is greeted by supporters as he is released from the prison of Kolea, west of Algiers. A politician and a journalist who are prominent opposition figures in Algeria have been arrested days ahead of the country's parliamentary election, according to a group of lawyers defending jailed activists of the pro-democracy movement. The National Committee for the Liberation of the Detained said politician Karim Tabbou was arrested Thursday night at his home in the southwestern suburbs of Algiers. (AP Photo/Anis Belghoul, FILE)
FILE - In this July 2, 2020 file photo, activist Karim Tabbou flashes a victory sign as he is greeted by supporters as he is released from the prison of Kolea, west of Algiers. A politician and a journalist who are prominent opposition figures in Algeria have been arrested days ahead of the country's parliamentary election, according to a group of lawyers defending jailed activists of the pro-democracy movement. The National Committee for the Liberation of the Detained said politician Karim Tabbou was arrested Thursday night at his home in the southwestern suburbs of Algiers. (AP Photo/Anis Belghoul, FILE)
People queue to cast their vote outside a polling station during the country's first legislative elections sine the ouster of ex-president Bouteflika, in Algiers, Algeria, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Algerians vote Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Toufik Doudou)
People queue to cast their vote outside a polling station during the country's first legislative elections sine the ouster of ex-president Bouteflika, in Algiers, Algeria, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Algerians vote Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Toufik Doudou)
Men argue by electoral posters in Ain Ouessara, 190 kilometers (118 miles) from Algiers, Thursday, June 10, 2021. In addition to the traditional parties, dozens of independent candidates have decided to take part in the legislative elections on June 12, that the government organized earlier than expected under a new system meant to weed out corruption and open voter rolls — a major step in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's promise of a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)
Men argue by electoral posters in Ain Ouessara, 190 kilometers (118 miles) from Algiers, Thursday, June 10, 2021. In addition to the traditional parties, dozens of independent candidates have decided to take part in the legislative elections on June 12, that the government organized earlier than expected under a new system meant to weed out corruption and open voter rolls — a major step in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's promise of a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)
A man walks past electoral posters in Ain Ouessara, 190 kilometers (118 miles) from Algiers, Thursday, June 10, 2021. In addition to the traditional parties, dozens of independent candidates have decided to take part in the legislative elections on June 12, that the government organized earlier than expected under a new system meant to weed out corruption and open voter rolls — a major step in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's promise of a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)
A man walks past electoral posters in Ain Ouessara, 190 kilometers (118 miles) from Algiers, Thursday, June 10, 2021. In addition to the traditional parties, dozens of independent candidates have decided to take part in the legislative elections on June 12, that the government organized earlier than expected under a new system meant to weed out corruption and open voter rolls — a major step in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's promise of a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)
Women walk past electoral posters in Ain Ouessara, 190 kilometers (118 miles) from Algiers, Thursday, June 10, 2021. In addition to the traditional parties, dozens of independent candidates have decided to take part in the legislative elections on June 12, that the government organized earlier than expected under a new system meant to weed out corruption and open voter rolls — a major step in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's promise of a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)
Women walk past electoral posters in Ain Ouessara, 190 kilometers (118 miles) from Algiers, Thursday, June 10, 2021. In addition to the traditional parties, dozens of independent candidates have decided to take part in the legislative elections on June 12, that the government organized earlier than expected under a new system meant to weed out corruption and open voter rolls — a major step in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's promise of a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)
Electoral posters are pictured in Algiers, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Algerians are preparing for the June 12 elections to elect members of parliament. (AP Photo/Toufik Doudou)
Electoral posters are pictured in Algiers, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Algerians are preparing for the June 12 elections to elect members of parliament. (AP Photo/Toufik Doudou)
Election officials wait inside a polling station as Algerians cast their vote in the country's first legislative elections sine the ouster of ex-president Bouteflika, in Algiers, Algeria, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Algerians vote Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)
Election officials wait inside a polling station as Algerians cast their vote in the country's first legislative elections sine the ouster of ex-president Bouteflika, in Algiers, Algeria, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Algerians vote Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)
A man casts his vote in a polling station in the country's first legislative elections sine the ouster of ex-president Bouteflika, in Algiers, Algeria, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Algerians vote Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Toufik Doudou)
A man casts his vote in a polling station in the country's first legislative elections sine the ouster of ex-president Bouteflika, in Algiers, Algeria, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Algerians vote Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a "new Algeria." (AP Photo/Toufik Doudou)
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