Campaigning begins for Algeria's local elections
By Said Jameh for Magharebia in Algiers – 08/11/07
PCampaigning began Thursday (November 8th) in Algeria's local and provincial elections, scheduled for November 29th. Twenty-three political parties and 465 independent candidates have declared their participation in the elections.
Parties and independents have fielded a total of 8,647 candidate lists, vying for a majority of seats in 1,541 municipal councils and 48 provincial councils, representing each of Algeria's 48 wilayas.
Political hopefuls have 19 days in which to persuade the nation's roughly 18 million voters, more than half of whom are women, to go to the polls.
The elections were originally scheduled for the beginning of October, but were postponed at the request of political parties because of overlap with the month of Ramadan and the beginning of the new school year. The last municipal elections were held in October 2002, when the National Liberation Front won the majority of seats.
An amendment made last summer to the electoral law restricts participation in local elections to parties that have either received at least 4% of the vote in their districts over the previous three elections or received signatures of support from at least 3% of registered voters in their electorates. Under the new standard, just nine parties satisfied the first condition; many critics perceived the government's changes to be a move against "small parties".
Fourteen of the so-called small parties have surprised the government by obtaining the necessary signatures to field candidates in the current elections.
The elections will proceed for the first time without the oversight of an independent political committee; the government said it chose to abandon the programme because each party will have representatives in the polling stations to provide the necessary monitoring.
The government and parties alike have expressed concern about voter participation, after legislative elections on May 17th recorded the lowest turnout – 35% – since the country's independence 45 years ago.
Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni urged provincial governors during a meeting in Algiers late last month to work hard to convince voters to participate.
The Interior Ministry sent letters in June to more than 4 million registered voters who did not participate in the legislative elections, asking for their reasons for not participating. The move prompted intense criticism from opposition parties, who accused the ministry of interfering in the private and personal matters of the citizens. The interior minister said the measure was intended to purge electoral lists of "falsely registered voters".
Louisa Hanoune, Secretary-General of the Workers' Party, called on the government to address the problems facing citizens in their daily lives, attributing poor voter turnout to a perceived lack of action by the authorities to correct social and economic issues.
Many Algerian voters have expressed a lack of interest in the elections, believing candidates are only after their own interests at a time when social conditions are worsening due to price rises and a decline in purchasing power in recent months, despite a national wage increase for thousands of employees in the public and private sectors.
Early projections have shown the ruling coalition, consisting of the National Liberation Front, the National Rally for Democracy and the Movement of Society for Peace are likely to retain the majority of seats in the November elections.
Two parties have said the government's modifications to the electoral law have ensured they will not threaten the ruling coalition. The Socialist Forces Front and Rally for Culture and Democracy have accused the government of rigging the elections for the benefit of the top three parties.
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