This piece originally appeared in The Wessex Scene.
Today marks the beginning of Algeria’s presidential election, as incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeks a fourth term, standing against former prime minister Ali Benflis, the main opposition candidate.
With a population of 38 million, more than 23 million Algerians are registered to vote in this year’s election, but early reports are already suggesting a low turnout. This is because many have predicted a win for ailing President Bouteflika, who at 77, has been in power for the last 15 years.
He is affiliated with the National Liberation Front, and was once Algeria’s youngest foreign minister; he is also one of the last in a generation of leaders who ascended to power after the North African country gained independence from France in 1962. He eventually took office in 1999 in the midst of the civil war between the Algerian military and Islamist militants, and in 2008, he successfully scrapped the constitutional rules which limited him to only two terms as president.
The last election took place in 2009, where Mr. Bouteflika had apparently achieved 90 percent of the vote. He suffered a stroke last year and remains in frail health, but his re-election is perceived as inevitable, despite being largely absent from public life and not personally campaigning this year. In fact, three other candidates chose to pull out of the race when he announced his bid to re-run, citing the result to be a ‘foregone conclusion.’
As a result, a coalition of Islamist and other opposition groups have come together to call for a boycott of the election, arguing that Mr. Bouteflika is unfit to re-run due to his failing health. Public discontent has continued to swell, and an urban middle-class protest movement called Barakat!, meaning “Enough!”, has held demonstrations all over the country. They have accused the government of large-scale corruption and have criticised the President for failing to tackle rising unemployment and improve living conditions during his time in power.
Six other candidates, including Mr. Benflis, are competing against Mr. Bouteflika to hold presidential office and govern the country for the next five years. After failing to beat Mr. Bouteflika around ten years ago, this will be Mr. Benflis’s second attempt, as he announced his candidacy on 19 January 2014. After casting his vote, he also vehemently stated that he “will not keep quiet” if there is any evidence of election fraud.
Meanwhile, AFP have reported that more than 260,000 police have been deployed to 50,000 polling booths for this year’s election; the results will be announced on Friday at the earliest.