Algerians vote in local polls to seal post-Bouteflika ‘change’

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The election is the third vote in Algeria under President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who promised to reform state institutions inherited from Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

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Algerians voted in local elections, seen as crucial for President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to turn the page on the late President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s two-decade rule.

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But despite official campaigns urging Algerians to “make their mark”, the vote for municipal and provincial councils on Saturday undermined public interest.

The election is the third vote in Algeria under Teboune, who has promised to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika, a strongman who ruled the country for two decades.

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Observers had predicted low turnout because of the poor turnout since Bouteflika was ousted from power by the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement in April 2019.

Analyst Mohamed Henad said the North African country’s rulers are trying to “impose their will despite the shameful results of the last elections”.

Polling stations opened at 8 am (07:00 GMT) and closed at 7 pm. More than 23 million people are eligible to vote, with 15,230 candidates standing and results expected on Sunday.

The campaign was muted despite calls by the Algerians to “want change” and participate in “institution-building”.

Tebboune was elected in a controversial, widely boycotted 2019 ballot months after Bouteflica stepped down under pressure from the military and diamond rallies.

He promised to sabotage local and regional elections due to widespread claims of fraud 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 Bouteflika, called on Algerians to actively participate in the vote.

“If people want change, the time has come for them to do something about it themselves by voting,” he said.

‘major challenges’

Algeria’s local legislatures elect two-thirds of the members of the upper house of the national parliament, with the president appointing the remainder.

Redouane Boudzema, professor of journalism at the University of Algiers, said the vote was merely “an attempt to clean the facade of local councils by changing their members to benefit the ruling class”.

“The politics of this time is limited to slogans that the country has entered a new era, while all indicators point to the opposite.”

Tebboune’s regime has cracked down on journalists and Hirak activists, even as he took significant policy steps as a response to the protest movement’s call for reform.

He has also faced a diplomatic crisis with Algeria’s colonial ruler France and is embroiled in a diplomatic crisis with neighboring Morocco, with which Algiers broke diplomatic ties in August over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

But in his televised remarks on Friday, Tebboune said, “These relations should return to normal, provided that the other party [France] imagines them on an equal basis without provocation.”

Henad said that since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, the elite in power had been raising slogans for change to implement their agenda, without involving other political forces.

Tebboune pushed through a revised constitution in November 2020, approved by less than 24 percent of voters, and oversaw a parliamentary election in which only 23 percent of voters participated.

Despite the boycott announced by the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), party workers stand on independent lists, setting off a showdown with the rival Front of Socialist Forces (FFS) in the Kabili region that often sees significant restraint.

The head of the election board, Mohammad Charfi, has stressed the body’s efforts to increase turnout.

But Boudzema said the main issue at stake was the “enormous economic and social challenges of the year ahead”, warning that the purchasing power of the Algerian people could “collapse”.

“Several indicators suggest that pouvoir [ruling elite] There is neither vision nor strategy to deal with the crisis,” he said.

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