Algerians play down calls to boycott legislative elections
By Lyes Aflou for Magharebia in Algiers – 16/05/2007
More than 18 million Algerians are registered to go to the polls on Thursday (May 17th) to elect 389 deputies to the People’s National Assembly. Some 10,000 voting centres and 42,000 polling stations will accommodate voters on the day of the elections. Strict security measures have been put in place to ensure the vote runs smoothly, following calls by al-Qaada and some exiled Islamists to boycott the election.
Some 15,000 police officers will be deployed in the capital alone, although heightened security measures have already been in place for a week. Because the capital is feared to be the most likely terrorist target, police are conducting systematic checks on people entering Algiers. Elsewhere in the country, police stand guard outside polling stations and ensure that parked cars are removed from adjacent streets.
This large-scale deployment of security resources comes as no surprise to Algerians after their experiences in the early 1990s, when the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) terrorised the nation. Belkacem Sari, a civil servant, remembers this period. "During the presidential elections in 1995, the terrorist threat was greater. Voters were ordered not to go to the polls, but Algerians defied this by turning out en masse. This time…if anyone does abstain, it won’t be because al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb wants them to. It will be for other reasons, such as political apathy."
Abou Moussab Abdelouadoud (alias Abdelmalek Droukdel), leader of al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb called upon Algerians to boycott the elections. He called them a "comedy no different from the other comedies Algeria has seen" in a tape recording broadcast Monday on al-Jazeera. "If you take part in these elections, you will be indulging in a great sin together with these apostates," he added.
Many political parties doubt the effectiveness of the boycott call. "We’re not afraid of it at all, since it won’t resonate with anyone," Abdelmadjid Menasra, spokesman for the Movement for a Society of Peace (MSP), an Islamist party, told AFP. He said his party's campaign was focused on the "rejection of violence and respect for democracy and transition of power", saying the current call is "from terrorists, not a political call - so the public will not obey it." Menasra believes that if voters do abstain, it will be for other reasons, such as fear of electoral fraud.
Said Bouhadja, spokesman for the FLN (National Liberation Front), said that al-Qaeda’s demands "will in no way change our strategy of getting voters out en masse to counter the scheming of gangsters and criminals". He declared that his party is "not afraid at all. On the contrary, this call will have precisely the opposite effect on voters, as happened on the day after the attacks on April 11th, when thousands of Algerians went out into the streets to demonstrate against terrorism and for national reconciliation."
Ahmed Benaicha, former chief of the disbanded Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was quoted by El Khabar as saying that repentant terrorists will cast their votes for the National Liberation Front (FLN). According to Benaicha, the move aims to block the plans of "uprooters", in reference to some Islamist political forces who denounced the amnesty granted them by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Other former FIS leaders, who were forbidden from standing in Thursday's election, are divided on the vote. While Abbas Madani, in exile in Doha, called for a boycott, Rabah Kebir urged all Algerians to vote. Ech Chourouk reported on Tuesday (May 15th) that former FIS leader Madani Mezrague denounced the calls for boycott, asking voters instead to choose among the honest members of any political party.
The 389 seats in the National People’s Assembly, which will be contested by 12,229 candidates, include 32 in Algiers (to be contested by 24 parties), 16 in Setif (20 parties), 15 in Oran (20 parties) and 14 in Tizi Ouzou (22 parties and 2 independent candidates).
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