Algeria wrapped up campaigning today for the May 10 parliamentary vote, with officials calling for calm even as the election threatened to be marred by voter apathy.
Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia cautioned against protests or unrest during the elections, telling a crowd of voters a day before the monthlong campaign ended that the uprisings that led to the ouster of leaders in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have brought nothing but chaos to the region.
Ouyahia said it was increasingly clear from the unrest that has gripped those countries that the wave of mass protests “was not an Arab Spring sweeping the region, but a deluge,” the state-run APS news agency quoted him as saying yesterday.
While the ruling National Liberation Front is facing challenges from the Islamist Ennahda Party and the Socialist Forces Front, among others, Algerian officials say they worry that voter apathy will undermine the results of the vote.
“The real threat in these elections is abstention,” Interior Minister Daho Ouled Kablia said in an April 21 interview on state radio.
Officials say they are concerned the vote will see a repeat of the record low turnout of 35 percent in 2007. To shore up trust in the system, Algeria invited 500 foreign observers to monitor the election, including from the European Union, the Arab League and the United Nations. It also set up two commissions to monitor the race for the parliament, where the number of seats was expanded to 462 from the current level of 382. An additional 21 new political parties were also allowed to run.
The lack of voter interest has been linked to what Algerians describe as a fear of reliving the bloodshed that erupted shortly after the military intervened in 1991 as Islamists were poised to sweep elections. The decade of fighting that followed left more than 200,000 dead.
“Algerians still have, in their collective memory, the images of the black decade and are ready to give up their rights in order to not relive these painful moments,” Nacer Djabi, a sociologist at Algiers University, said in an interview.
Many argue that their current focus is to improve their lives, though they have little confidence in pledges by parties to boost the economy or create jobs in a nation where unemployment stood at about 10 percent, according to the latest figures from the National Statistics Office.
“I won’t vote because I don’t trust the system and the promises of transparency,” said Agbdelmoutalib Mohamed, a 39- year-old pharmaceutical company executive.
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