Page last updated at 00:43 GMT, Friday, 10 April 2009 01:43 UK

Algerians vote in poll 'charade'


President Abdelaziz Bouteflika casts his vote

Algerians have voted in a presidential election which opposition groups have described as a charade.

The incumbent, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is standing for a third term in office. Observers say he is almost certain to be re-elected.

The interior ministry put turnout at 74%, despite a boycott of the election by the main opposition groups.

The little-known opposition candidates include two nationalists, two moderate Islamists and a woman left-winger.

Their posters have been invisible in the capital, where the face of the incumbent adorns every available space, correspondents say.

Voting or not will make no difference as Bouteflika will win anyway
Nacer Djabi, political analyst

Mr Bouteflika, 72, has promised to spend $150bn (£102bn) on development projects and create three million jobs, and stresses the fact that he has restored stability in Algeria.

His critics say he is using the threat of renewed violence from Islamic militants to mask the country's deeper problems of poverty, high unemployment and corruption.

The president voted in the morning in the upmarket Algiers heights neighbourhood el-Biar.

He urged Algeria's 20 million registered voters to make the trip to polling stations, eager to enhance his authority by a high turnout.

Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyhaia cast his vote elsewhere in the capital and was quoted by local media as saying: "I'm not giving any predictions, but I think the turnout will be high."

Many people told the BBC they planned to sit out the vote in the overwhelming conviction that Mr Bouteflika would win regardless of their ballot. Some said they would cast blank ballots in protest.

Algerian voters give their views on the presidential elections

One voter, 26-year-old sport teacher Abdeljaleel Saad, told the BBC: "I will not vote. We already know the result, so what is the point?"

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Algiers says most of the polling stations he visited on Thursday were quiet, although the interior minister said almost half the electorate had voted by early afternoon.

The government has been accused of inflating figures before, our correspondent notes, and there has been no independent verification by African Union observers.

Mr Bouteflika campaigned on security and national reconciliation, our correspondent adds, and an explosion at a polling station east of Algiers which injured two policemen was a timely reminder that there is still a significant threat from militants.

No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

'Shadowy figures'

In November, the Algerian parliament rubber-stamped an amendment that would change the constitution, meaning Mr Bouteflika can now run an unlimited number of times - which analysts say virtually makes him president for life.

Mr Bouteflika wants to be seen as a leader above the political fray, a man who can unite all Algerians, says BBC Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi.

Many do credit him with ending the civil war between the military-backed government and Islamic insurgents which lasted throughout the 1990s, adds our correspondent.

Born in 1937 to Algerian parents in Morocco
Fought in Algeria's war for independence from France
Was known at the UN as the "dandy diplomat"
Went into self-imposed exile in 1980s amid fraud allegations
First elected president with army backing in 1999
Had constitution changed in 2008 to run for third term

The conflict was triggered when the military intervened in a parliamentary poll in 1991 to stop an Islamist victory. Up to 150,000 people died in the violence.

"I continue to regard the restoration of civil peace as a national priority, as long as hotbeds of tension and pockets of subversion survive," Mr Bouteflika said in his final campaign speech on Monday.

But critics of the post-colonial order in Algeria say real power does not come from the ballot box but from the military and security services who anoint the man they want to be president.

Mr Bouteflika is said to have curbed some of their influence although many still believe the levers of power remain in the hands of shadowy figures who are the de facto rulers of this vast and oil-rich country, our correspondent says, and that is why the opposition says the election is a charade.

Results of the ballot will be announced on Friday. Turnout in 2004 was just under 60%.

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