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Algerian election campaign kicks off | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria kicked of 20 days of campaigning Sunday for May 10 parliamentary elections, amid fears of voter apathy in a country where many believe real power rests in the hands of a military elite.

It is Algeria’s first election since the demonstrations and uprisings of the Arab Spring swept the region and prompted the president to put forward a series of reforms.

“We cannot emphasize enough the importance of massive participation in the May 10 elections for a supreme legislative body that is one of the grand institutions of the republic,” President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said in a message to the country Saturday.

There is a widespread cynicism over politics in this oil and gas rich North African country, where despite regular presidential and parliamentary elections, it is believed a small coterie of influential generals control the country.

Though the widespread popular uprisings witnessed in other Arab countries never took off in Algeria, there are regular small-scale daily protests over economic issues, such as lack of housing or utilities.

The election will see 42 political parties competing for 389 seats, but the main contest is expected to be between two government-linked political parties and an alliance of three Islamist parties.

While Islamist political parties have dominated post-Arab Spring elections in neighboring Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, Algeria’s leaders have maintained that their country will be an exception.

The last time an Islamist party was poised to win parliamentary elections here was in 1992, prompting a military coup that sparked off a civil war between security forces and Islamist militants. Some 200,000 people died.

To this day, security forces continue to battle remnants of these insurgents, who declared allegiance to al-Qaida in 2006.

Recent polls have 44 percent of Algerians saying they will vote, a slight increase over the dismal 35 percent turnout in the 2007 elections.

In Algeria over the weekend, however, there were already signs that people aren’t taking the elections seriously.

Campaign posters were vandalized and in some cases painted over with slogans saying “why vote for a parliament without power” and “No to elections with potatoes at 120 dinars ($1.60) a kilogram.”

Opposition parties have accused the government of rigging past elections, but this year the government has pledged free and fair elections and allowed in some 500 international observers to monitor the polls.