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Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Algerians ignore election campaign
Woman and child walks past election posters
The elections are passing many people by

Electoral posters in Algiers are few and far between, and in most cases they have been vandalised by angry - or bored - passers-by.

The parliamentary elections, the second only in 10 years, are due to take place on Thursday, but Algerians do not seem overly interested.

We will advise women to wear the traditional veil, but we will not force them

Farouk Ben Ouared
Islamist leader
As 25-year-old Djamila, a student at the University of Bouzareah in the capital, puts it: "The elections will not change anything - I will get a degree but I won't get a job".

And Djamila's case is far from unique. Seven out of 10 Algerians are under 30, and 30% of the workforce is unemployed.

However, the Interior Ministry says that more than 350,000 people have attended rallies over the two-week campaign.

There may not be many electoral posters, but there are even fewer issues being debated.

In fact, the only theme that has remained at the centre of all political speeches is whether voters should take part in the election at all.


Large opposition parties have called on their supporters not to cast their votes.

The boycott movement started in the Berber-speaking region of Kabylie, 100 kilometres east of Algiers.

Banner calling for a boycott
There is a strong call to boycott the vote

It has now spread to the rest of the country.

In Kabylie, demonstrators have clashed with the security forces almost daily for more than a year.

An opposition leader with a strong power base in Kabylie, Ahmed Djeddai, of the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), says that the protestors' aim is that "no vote is cast at all in Kabylie", apart from that of the members of the security forces.

"In fact what we will get in Kabylie on Thursday is not the turnout, but the rate of militarisation of the region," he says.

'Woollen suits'

The government has accused political leaders in Kabylie of using intimidation and violence to prevent people from voting.

A very low turnout may suit political movements that do take part, and in particular moderate Islamic parties such as the Movement of Society of Peace (MSP), which is part of the ruling coalition.

Berber protesters
Berbers have been campaigning for greater recognition

Algerians call them "Islamists in Woollen Suits".

Their leaders usually wear fine Western clothes, their rhetoric is very smooth and they want to sound reassuring.

"We will advise women to wear the traditional veil, but we will not force them," says Farouk Ben Ouared, one of the leaders of the MSP.

"Belief is better than coercion," Mr Ben Ouared adds, "but laws might be passed to control the sale of alcohol."

Both the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), on the boycott side, and the MSP, in the ruling coalition, have accused the authorities of being prepared to tamper with the election results.

The authorities have strongly rejected these allegations.

Power cut

According to most forecasts, the National Liberation Front (FLN) will finish first.

The FLN took power at the end of the liberation war 40 years ago and is one of the two largest components of the present government.

Election poster
The FLN is expected to win most seats

For the last FLN rally of the campaign, the party chartered five or six buses to take dozens of young men from the suburbs of Algiers to Baraki, 10km to the south.

Everything had been going smoothly.

A brass band of scouts had played the national anthem and speakers had warmed an already excited, 2,000-strong crowd.

But when the Prime Minister Ali Benflis, who is the secretary general of the party, started his speech, there was a power cut, and Mr Benflis went quiet for about 10 minutes.

For some observers, this was no accident.

Baraki has for a long time been a stronghold of Islamic militants.

In the mid-nineties, it was a no-go area for the security forces, hundreds of people were massacred in the area at the end of 1997.

The security forces and the ruling party have now clearly regained the territory.

But on that evening some people thought that the power cut was due to the fact that they had failed abysmally to regain the residents' hearts.

The BBC's Paul Wood
"People know the real power lies with the military"
See also:

28 May 02 | Media reports
11 Jan 02 | Middle East
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02 May 02 | Middle East
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18 Mar 02 | Country profiles
18 Mar 02 | Middle East
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