A minority of Algerians took part in presidential elections yesterday, eight months after the resignation of long-time ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika, as protesters dismissed the poll as a farce.
As some headed to the polls, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the capital, Algiers, despite a heavy security presence and earlier attempts by security forces to disperse the anti-government rallies.
Protesters also gathered in cities including Bejaia, Tizi Ouzou and Constantine in the east.
At midday, the electoral authorities closed polling booths in Tizi Ouzou, the capital of the restive Kabylie region, Algerian media reported, amid disruption and a partial boycott of the vote.
Protesters tried to force the closure of polling stations in Kabylie’s capital, triggering clashes with security forces in riot gear in which two people were injured, al-Khabar, an independent Algerian newspaper reported online.
Others withheld their votes, although turnout reached 20.4% at 3pm (1400 GMT), according to head of the electoral commission, Mohamed Sharafi.
“Participation in 17 of the country’s provinces has exceeded 25% of registered voters,” he told Algeria’s state television without providing further details.
Polls closed at 7pm.
About 24mn Algerians are eligible to vote at 60,000 polling stations nationwide to choose one of five contenders vying for the presidency.
The election is considered valid if at least 10% of voters participate.
While many stayed away from the polls yesterday, some were happy to have cast their ballot.
“I voted and fulfilled my duty towards the country ... Algeria comes first,” Maamari Ammar, 76, told DPA.
Pressure from street protests and the country’s influential military forced Bouteflika to resign in April.
Protests continued since then, as people called for the departure of key Bouteflika-era officials and for an overhaul of the political system before an election was held.
“No elections with the gangs,” protesters shouted, referring to politicians currently in office who had been part of the former government.
Samir Omrani, 42, was angered by pictures showing Bouteflika’s brother, Nacer, casting a ballot on behalf of the former president.
“This is a provocation to the people and the movement, which represents the overwhelming majority of Algerians,” Omrani said, describing Bouteflika’s vote as “the head of corruption giving legitimacy to his children”.
Bouteflika, now aged 82, ruled Algeria for two decades, an era that was dominated by cronyism and mismanagement.
The country’s authorities have launched a crackdown on senior officials and businessmen who were close to Bouteflika.
On Tuesday, two former prime ministers and other senior officials were sentenced to prison for squandering public funds and abusing their authority.
The presidential hopefuls have vowed to fight corruption and urged Algerians to cast their ballots.
Candidate Abdelaziz Belaid told reporters after voting that he hoped the election leads to “a new republic”.
Belaid urged the people to vote “to determine their destiny” in the election that he believed will be “a new start towards the future”.
“Long live Algeria,” former prime minister and presidential candidate Abdelmadjid Tebboune said, adding that the polls would make the country a “republic of justice”.
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