Algiers and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Algerian voters are heading to the polls today, April 17, to vote in a presidential election overshadowed by accusations of fraud and calls for the ruling regime to step down.
Incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seeking an unprecedented fourth term amid widespread worries about his health, and following allegations that the results of the previous presidential election in 2009 were marred by fraud.
Opposition candidates Ali Benflis, Moussa Touati and Ali Fawzi Rebaïne agreed on Tuesday that they and their election observers would pool any evidence of electoral fraud and report it to the election commission. All of the five opposition candidates have expressed concern that this year’s poll will be undermined by attempts to manipulate the results.
Interior Minister Tayeb Belaïz countered these allegations in a press conference on Tuesday, saying that the campaign had taken place “on the whole, in good conditions” and that “all the necessary conditions of transparency, neutrality and security have been put in place to ensure the success of Thursday’s presidential election.” The interior ministry is deploying some 460,000 civil servants to administer the poll, including 260,000 police officers to ensure security.
At a news conference on Tuesday, leading independent candidate and former member of Bouteflika’s ruling National Liberation Front Ali Benflis said: “I will not be quiet and I will protest, and I will not be alone” in the event of fraud during the poll, although he also expressed his confidence that he would succeed in his bid for the presidency.
Benflis also called on Algerians not to resort to violence should fraud be reported or should their chosen candidate not win, following a five-week election campaign marked by rare public protests against the country’s ruling regime.
Many in Algeria see President Bouteflika’s re-election as guaranteed, either due to his personal popularity with voters as a familiar face representing stability and continuity, or through vote-rigging in his favor. Boycotts of Thursday’s poll are also anticipated.
Abderazzak Makri, the leader of the Movement of the Society for Peace, the largest Islamist party in Algeria, said in a radio interview on Tuesday that his party was boycotting the election “because le pouvoir [the ruling powers] have refused to give us guarantees regarding the transparency of the poll, and because we know that ruling powers’ candidate will win whatever his name.”
Makri added that he suspected the ruling National Liberation Front would face difficulties in deciding who would run the country should Bouteflika be reelected.
The president suffered a stroke last year that has prevented him from making regular public appearances, leaving his campaign to be run by his deputy, Abdelmalek Sellal.
Boualam Ghamrasa contributed reporting from Algiers