Algerians voted Saturday in local elections seen as key in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s push to turn the page on the two-decade rule of late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
But despite official campaigns urging Algerians to “make their mark”, the vote for municipal and provincial councils sparked little public interest.
The election is the third vote in Algeria under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika, an autocrat who ruled the country for two decades.
Observers are predicting a low turnout, in the same manner as the other poorly-attended elections held since Bouteflika was driven from power by the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement in April 2019.
Two hours into the vote, turnout was running at about four percent, the election authority ANIE said.
The North African country’s rulers are trying to “impose their will despite the embarrassing results of previous elections”, said analyst Mohamed Hennad.
Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) and were scheduled to close at 7:00 pm.
More than 23 million people are eligible to vote, with 115,230 candidates standing for municipal and provincial councils.Results are expected on Sunday.
Tebboune, members of his family as well as the army’s chief of staff and other government officials were among the first to vote.
Campaigning had been muted despite calls by authorities on Algerians to take part if they “want change” and “institution building”. But Omar, an engineer, said he would not cast a ballot.
“Nothing will change,” he said.
Yacine, a teacher, said he would be voting for rivals of the current Algiers mayor “even if I have no illusions” that they will be better.
Tebboune was elected in a contentious, widely boycotted 2019 ballot months after Bouteflika stepped down under pressure from the army and Hirak rallies.
He has vowed to break with the past manner of holding local and regional elections marred by widespread claims of fraud — as they were in the era of Bouteflika, who died in September at the age of 84.
In a televised interview on Friday, Tebboune, a former prime minister under the late autocrat, called on Algerians to participate in large numbers in the vote.
“If the people want change, it is time they do something about it themselves by voting,” he said.
Algeria’s local assemblies elect two-thirds of members of the national parliament’s upper house, with the president appointing the remainder.
Redouane Boudjemaa, a journalism professor at the University of Algiers, said the vote was simply “an attempt to clean up the facade of local councils by changing their members, to benefit the ruling class”, he said.
“Politics at the moment is limited to slogans proclaiming that the country has entered a new era, while all indicators point to the contrary,” Boudjemaa added.