Campaigning has officially begun for Algeria’s presidential election. Observers say the ballot on April 9 is widely seen as a one-man race that is likely to give President Abdelaziz Bouteflika a third five-year term. Parliament amended the constitution last November to allow the 72-year-old to stand again.
“Everyone will understand that it was very difficult for me not to respond to this common demand, insisting that I stand,” President Bouteflika said. “With help from God I decided to put my name forward for these presidential polls.” Critics of the government condemned the changing of the Constitution, and some well known opposition figures are boycotting the election. Observers say that means that Bouteflika’s five challengers have little chance of posing a real threat to his leadership. Opposition leader Said Saadi said: “We are facing a disguised coup. That’s why, as the opposition, we have to mobilise against it. But the citizens must be aware that this day, the 12th of November, will remain a black day in the history of an independent Algeria.” Supporters of Bouteflika say he deserves credit for leading the country back to stability. This after a civil conflict in the 1990s that left an estimated 150,000 people dead. An al-Qaeda linked insurgency remains a problem, however, and unemployment is extremely high for those under 30. Only one of the five candidates up against Bouteflika has a relatively high-profile, Louisa Hanoune, who was already a presidential candidate in 2004. “Our campaign is to make the Algerian population more aware,” Hounane said. “You can make yourself heard by using the ballot box.” Low turnout is expected to be a problem in these elections. Only 35 percent turned out for legislative polls in 2007, the lowest rate ever. This time round it is reported the government has sent millions of mobile phone messages urging people to vote next month.