- Title: ALGERIA: Low turnout in Algerian parliamentary elections as polls close
- Date: 19th May 2007
- Summary: BLIND MAN VOTING WITH HELP OF CHILD AND ELECTION WORKER BLIND MAN BEING HELPED TO SIGN VOTING PAPERS (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) BLIND ALGERIAN MAN, WHO VOTED, MOHAMMED BERKANI, SAYING: "In the name of God I hope that God will give them strength and they will be able to serve the country."
- Embargoed: 3rd June 2007 13:00
- Location: Algeria
- Country: Algeria
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA7MCBTPBPKSXRAJKIXVY4R4JYG
- Story Text: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's governing coalition looks set to retain office but voter apathy is the main feature of Algeria's parliamentary elections.
Apathetic Algerians voted in low numbers on Thursday (May 17) for a parliament widely seen as subservient to the powerful presidency, ignoring a government appeal to turn the vote into a display of opposition to Islamist rebels.
Attacks by Islamist groups have threatened the north African country's attempts to rebuild after years of political bloodshed and police searched voters as they entered polling stations.
Voting stations closed at 8 p.m., and final results are due out Friday morning (May 18). The assembly is likely to remain dominated by the three parties of a governing coalition.
Turnout was low, with 28 percent of voters having cast their ballots by 5 p.m. compared with 38 percent at the same time in the previous elections in 2002, officials said. And in the capital, Algiers, turnout was 14 percent, half the national average.
In the Bab El Oued district, election workers tallied votes after the polls closed, with the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) winning comfortably. Bab El Oued was one of the worst hit areas in the civil war that ravaged Algeria in the 1990s, suffering attacks by militant groups.
The presidency is the most powerful office of state in Algeria, a major oil and gas exporter, and Algerians tend to say it is the incumbent, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, rather than parliament who holds the key to a better future.
The poll to choose the 389 members of the lower house of parliament is the third since an Islamist revolt erupted after the cancellation of a national election in January 1992, which a now-outlawed Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win.
Up to 200,000 people have been killed in political violence since then.
The bloodshed has diminished sharply in recent years, but lingers on. A triple bombing claimed by al Qaeda killed 33 in Algiers on April 11 and one policeman was killed when two small bombs exploded in the eastern city of Constantine on Wednesday.
Some of those who voted expressed hope that the government would find a way to solve the problems facing the country.
One man whose shop was bombed 11 years ago said: "I hope that the situation will improve so we can be finished with all of these problems."
Ninety one year old Mohammed Berkani, who is blind, said he was praying for the country's political leaders.
He said: "I hope that God will give them strength."
While violence is a major concern, social problems are still Algerians' main concern, with the nation gripped by a major housing crisis and unemployment among adults under 30 at a dismal 75 percent.
The FLN is expected to keep its position as the largest single party, and the pro-government Rally for National Democracy (RND) is likely to take second place. They are part of a ruling coalition with the Movement of Society for Peace, a moderate Islamist party.
While some opposition parties are running in the elections, they are not considered either strong opponents of the administration or a threat to its hold on power. Observers attribute public apathy in part to the absence of independent Islamist parties in the poll. Yesterday an influential former Algerian Islamist rebel leader said that the authorities are making a "dangerous" choice by excluding most Islamist forces from the elections.
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