Amal Belalloufi| Agence France Presse
ALGIERS: Campaigning starts Sunday for next month’s Algerian parliamentary election as authorities desperately try to persuade disillusioned voters that their opinion counts. “Make your voice heard,” reads a slogan on billboards and posters plastered in towns and villages across the North African country.
Government-sponsored advertisements play in a continuous loop on television in a bid to attract a larger turnout than about 43 percent for the last legislative poll in 2012.
The vote comes amid growing security and economic challenges as well as speculation around who will eventually succeed 80-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika – although experts say the real decision lies in the hands of the country’s secretive elite.
The election, which several parties are boycotting, will likely see Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front (FLN) and the allied Rally for National Democracy retain an absolute majority.
In Algiers, Salim said he would not vote on May 4.
“I couldn’t care less. Nothing will change,” said the 29-year-old, who has been jobless for five years since graduating in accounting.
Ouardia, a 50-year-old taxi driver, said she would not be taking part in the election either.
“Politicians only remember that the people exist during elections. The rest of the time, we can go to hell,” she said.
Like her, many residents of the Algerian capital are far more worried by the increasing cost of living than by the upcoming poll.
The price of fruit and vegetables has shot up in recent weeks.
Political analyst Rachid Grim says turnout at the election will probably remain low as “the largest party in Algeria is that of the silent majority.”
“They’re no longer interested in the elections. They believe the outcome has already been decided and their votes won’t be taken into account,” he said.
To counter voter apathy, Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui this week called on Algerians to flock to the polls to vote “to preserve peace and stability.”
He urged television broadcasters to help inform voters about the importance of casting their ballots and to “not work toward discrediting the elections or give the floor to parties calling for a boycott.”
Retired teacher Fatima, 65, said she would vote, although she still had to decide who she would choose, “because there has been too much bloodshed in this country.”
She said she had lost several relatives in Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s, which killed 200,000 people.
As he sat sipping coffee on a terrace in the capital, Said, a man in his 80s, said voting should be compulsory. He said “sleeping the day of the vote and then complaining afterward about the result” was “absurd.”
Up to 23 million Algerians are registered to vote by universal suffrage for 462 lawmakers in the election.
Until then, candidates on 940 lists made up from 15 parties and on two independent lists are to hold hundreds of campaigning events across the country.
And they are actively seeking votes on social media for an election to include more women this year.
Since 2011, a law says parties must reserve 20 to 50 percent of their lists for female candidates.
A few hours’ drive west of Algiers, the Chlef area has a list of candidates who are all women.
And since 2016, the 410 members of a new electoral body will oversee the voting. Half of them are magistrates and the others are to be picked from civil society.
The head of the authority, Abdelouahab Derbal, has said the European Union, African Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation will also send observers.