May 08 2012
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"If my father rose from his grave and told me to vote, I wouldn't do it," one civil servant said as he shared an elevator at a government ministry with two strangers.
The election on May 10 is turning out to be not so much a contest between political parties as between those who think people should vote and those who don't want to.
A big turnout matters greatly to the authorities in this energy-producing North African state.
Under pressure to change after the upheavals in neighbouring countries, they are casting the election as an important step towards democratic reform, and need people to vote in large numbers to lend it legitimacy.
But a large segment of the population is mistrustful of elections which, as the president himself has admitted, have been unfair in the past. These people believe this week's vote will be no different and will either boycott it or -- more likely -- just not bother to show up.
"Voter turnout will be the main wild card," said Riccardo Fabiani, North Africa analyst with private think-tank Eurasia Group. "The fragile credibility of the Algerian regime means that many voters are likely to continue to abstain."
The rows of notice-boards put up in the streets to accommodate election posters have become a battleground between the pro-voting camp and those who favour abstaining.
Party workers paste up their posters, and by the next morning, many have been ripped down. It is a routine repeated almost every 24 hours. In the El Biar district of Algiers, the only notice-boards that were untouched were on poles about 2.5 metres high, reachable only on a ladder.
Many people don't see how the election will affect their day-to-day preoccupations around unemployment, periodic shortages of goods, poor housing and high prices.
"We are not interested in the election campaign. I do not trust them and I will not vote," said Sofiane Medjehedine, an unemployed man taking part in a protest rally organised by an association for jobless people in central Algiers.
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