ALGIERS: Voter turnout was low midway through the day as Algerians voted on Saturday for a new parliament in an election with a majority of novice independent candidates running under new rules meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and open the way to a “new Algeria.”
Tension surrounded the voting in the gas-rich North African nation. Activists and opposition parties boycotted the election.
Authorities have tightened the screws on the Hirak protest movement in recent weeks, with police stopping weekly marches and arresting dozens, the latest a Hirak figure and two journalists. The three prominent opposition figures, including journalist Khaled Drareni, a press freedom advocate, were freed early Saturday, three days after their arrests.
The early election is supposed to exemplify President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “new Algeria,” with an emphasis on young candidates and those outside the political elite.
A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — are running for the 407-seat legislature, once dominated by a two-party alliance considered unlikely to maintain its grip on parliament. Islamist parties all offered candidates.
It’s the first legislative election since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced from office in 2019 after 20 years in power. Tebboune was elected eight months later, vowing to remake Africa’s largest country but with no sign of abandoning the preeminent though shadowy role of the army in governance.
“We are looking for change,” voter Mohammed Touait said at a polling station. “I am 84 years old, and today I woke up at 8 a.m. because I still have hope for change.”
The Constitutional Council announced on Saturday that it would be 15 days before results of the balloting are known because of the number of candidates and the need to ensure against fraud, which marked past elections.
The participation rate among Algeria’s 24 million voters was 10 percent midway through the day, the electoral authority announced.
The president, at the start of the day, brushed off as irrelevant the number of people who vote.
“What is important is that those the people vote for have sufficient legitimacy,” Tebboune said after casting his ballot in Algiers.