Fears of fraud mar Algeria poll

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iol pic afr algeria polls REUTERS A woman walks past municipal electoral posters in Algiers November 27, 2012.

Algeria - Algeria's ruling party is eyeing a landslide victory in local elections on Thursday, with numerous opposition groups warning of fraud in a poll that could struggle to mobilise a disaffected electorate.

Many of the 52 parties and lists competing for the 1 541 municipal and 48 regional assemblies in energy-rich Algeria have in recent weeks suggested that the outcome of the vote is already known, after claims of widespread fraud in May's parliamentary election.

Turnout is considered a key issue in Thursday's ballot.

Past elections have been dogged by voter apathy, amid entrenched scepticism over the government's ability to alleviate Algeria's pressing social problems, such as joblessness and poor housing.

The legislative poll earlier this year saw the ruling coalition of President Abdelazizi Bouteflika tighten its grip on power.

The 75-year-old president's National Liberation Front (FLN) won 221 of the 462 parliamentary seats up for grabs in what was seen as a referendum on the piecemeal political reforms Bouteflika launched in the wake of Arab Spring unrest last year.

Among the reforms was an agreement to allow for the formation of dozens of new political parties, some of which took part in the May election, in which the RND, another party in the presidential alliance, came second with 70 seats.

Abdelaziz Belkhadem, the FLN's secretary general and former prime minister, expressed confidence the party would repeat its “overwhelming” victory, since it was, he said, “the only political force capable of unifying” the Algerians.

Given the likelihood of such a result, Algeria's oldest opposition group, the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) has already denounced irregularities, in a country where every election since the multi-party system was introduced in 1989 has been disputed.

In Kabylie, a region where many of the non-Arab Berber community are suspicious of Bouteflika's reforms, voter “mobilisation remains strong, so fraud will be minimal,” said the party's first secretary Ali Laskri.

“But where there is less mobilisation, the regime will not hesitate to commit fraud,” he charged.

During the last three weeks of campaigning, which ended on Monday, many electoral meetings were poorly attended.

The Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), a secular opposition party which boycotted the parliamentary poll and which, like the FFS, has a strong Kabylie roots, has been equally pessimistic about a fair vote.

“The interior minister (Dahou Ould Kablia) is capable of announcing the results already,” said the party's president Mohcine Bellabas.

On Tuesday, the candidates of six parties running in Algiers, including FLN members, formed an anti-fraud group to monitor polling stations on Thursday, and denounced a falsification of electoral lists.

“It's true that this action can only limit the damage, because the electoral process is very complicated,” Salah Benmekki, who heads the RCD's ticket, was quoted as saying in the Algerian daily Liberty.

The national commission overseeing the elections, which is made up of judges named by the president, said Monday it had received 600 referrals since the registration of candidates began, including “minor offences” relating to the use of violence during campaigning.

It said 356 of the referrals were “justified” and 30 them had been transferred to the public prosecutor. - AFP

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