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Security high as Algeria holds controversial presidential vote

Polls have opened in Algeria today (December 12) in highly controversial elections meant to usher in a new president since the forced resignation of long serving Abdul Aziz Bouteflika early this year.

The polls were delayed by the resignation of Bouteflika amid a mass movement that kicked against the candidature of the ailing leader.

But the protesters have continued their push for a postponement of the vote with weekly protests even after Bouteflika’s ouster. Their main demand being that the entire ruling elite steps down and the military quits politics before any elections are held.

The army, seen as the strongest political player, stresses the importance of the vote saying it was the only way to restore order in Africa’s largest country – by land size.

Reuters reported that early in the morning, it was quiet at one central Algiers polling station, though police were patrolling the city’s streets on foot and in vehicles.

“The country has entered a critical phase,” said Aziz Djibali, 56, who went to vote at a polling station near the prime minister’s office. “It’s time for Algerians to voice their opinions peacefully.” Skirmishes has been reported in east of Algiers where protesters reportedly ransacked a polling station.

There are five aspirants on the ballot, but that all of them being former government appointees has not helped matters. Protesters have called for a boycott of the process.

Of the five, there are two former prime ministers and two former government ministers, seen largely as people who cannot stand up to the army’s central role in the polls.

Army chief Ahmed Gaed Salah has over the months issued stern warnings to people who he said wanted to threaten the security of the nation. He has described the vote as the most viable path to legitimacy of any government.

Algeria, a former French colony, is a major natural gas supplier to Europe and has a population of 40 million. The winner of the poll will be the first in 20 years, that is how long Bouteflika stayed in charge.

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