ALGIERS: Algerians weighed their options ahead of today’s election, with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika urging a large turnout as he eyes a fourth term, his main rival warning of fraud and others demanding a boycott.
More than 260,000 police have deployed across the country to guarantee security in the 50,000 polling booths set up to accommodate the 23 million Algerians eligible to vote in the presidential race, which is being contest by six candidates.
The ailing 77-year-old Bouteflika is widely expected to clinch a fourth term, but he faces the damaging possibility of low voter turnout, with protesters calling on Algerians to snub the poll and disrupting rallies during the election campaign.
Late on Tuesday, Bouteflika urged “all citizens to participate in the presidential election”, and saying those who abstained were choosing to “remain on the fringes of the nation”.
His message was carried by national media, with the president rarely appearing in public due to his poor health, which has even prevented him from taking to the campaign trail. Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz insisted that “all the conditions of transparency, neutrality and security have been put in place for the success of this election.”
A coalition of opposition parties, including the Islamist Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP) and the secular Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), have called on voters to shun an election they say is a “sham”.
Youth protest group Barakat (Enough in Arabic), founded just two months ago specifically to oppose the president’s bid for a fourth term, has described the vote as a “non-event”. Participation is set to be a key issue today.
Officially 74.11 percent of the electorate voted in the 2009 presidential poll, which Bouteflika won by a landslide after changing the constitution to allow himself to run for more than two terms.
The president’s main rival, Ali Benflis, has repeatedly warned of fraud during the election campaign, describing it as his “main adversary” in today’s vote.