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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2007, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Q&A: Algerian election
Algerian supporters at rally
Algerian supporters applaud at MSP election campaign rally

Algerians go to the polls on 17 May to elect deputies to the National People's Assembly (APN), the lower house of the country's parliament.

Q: What is at stake?

The legitimacy of Algerian elections has been an issue ever since 1991, when the result of a parliamentary election that handed victory to the now banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was cancelled.

The following year, the military stepped in and a state of emergency was imposed that has not yet been lifted. The ensuing "dirty war" between Islamist militants and government forces claimed 150,000 lives and lasted for the best part of a decade.

The violence gradually abated after 1999, when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika initiated a process of national reconciliation, but the ban on the FIS remains in force.

There has recently been a fresh upsurge in Islamist terrorism, with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claiming responsibility for an explosion near the prime minister's office in Algiers in April.

Another big challenge facing the Algerian government is how best to accommodate the aspirations of the country's Berber population. Some 20% of Algerians are Berber speakers, while in the predominantly Berber Kabylie region to the east of Algiers this figure rises to around 97%.

Q: Who won the last election?

The 2002 legislative election was dominated by the National Liberation Front (FLN) led by the current prime minister, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, which won 199 of the 380 seats. Two other parties that together with the FLN make up the Presidential Alliance trio, the Islamist Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) and the Democratic National Rally (RND), won 38 and 33 seats respectively.

The 2002 election was boycotted by the main opposition party, the Socialist Force Front (FFS), and the mainly Berber-based secular Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD). It was marred by violence and a low turnout.

Q: Who are the main contenders this time round?

A total of 24 political parties are fighting the election. The Presidential Alliance parties are fielding the largest number of candidates, closely followed by the RCD, the anti-Islamist Republican National Alliance (ANR), the Trotskyite Workers Party (PT) and a dissident faction of the Islamist National Reform Movement, MNR-Islah.

Several opposition parties - the FFS, the main factions of the MNR and the leftist Social Democratic Movement (MDS) - are boycotting the election.

Q: How does the voting system work?

Parliamentary deputies are elected by the proportional majority list system. There are 48 electoral constituencies or provinces in Algeria itself, and a further six electoral constituencies for almost a million Algerian nationals who live abroad.

Q: Why has the opposition called for a boycott?

The FFS maintains that the election is a sham and can have no legitimacy while the country continues to be under a state of emergency. The party's leader, veteran opposition figure Hocine Ait Ahmed, insists there is no prospect for change under the current system and has described the election as "a temporary marriage between the regime and political parties".

Q: What's the likely outcome?

The election is unlikely to produce any dramatic change in the country's political landscape, and most Algerians regard the outcome as a foregone conclusion. Mr Belkhadem - who is in charge of organising the election - says that the ruling FLN will easily win a majority of seats, and this statement seems to have already been accepted by his partners in the Presidential Alliance, who show no signs of attempting to challenge the FLN's leading role.

Q: Will the new parliament be genuinely representative?

The authorities point to the participation of a number of small "democratic" parties as providing the election with an element of legitimacy. However, the widespread perception that the result is almost bound to preserve the status quo means that turnout is likely to be low.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Algeria
11 Apr 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Algeria
09 May 07 |  Country profiles



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