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'Hit them with a stick': Algeria's PM urges wives to force men to vote

Many voters feel disillusioned with what they see as a stagnant political system
A man walks past campaign election posters in Algiers (Reuters)

Amid concerns over a low turnout and a jaded electorate, the Algerian prime minister has urged women to hit their husbands with a stick in order to get them to vote in Thursday’s parliamentary election.

The country is mired in a deep financial crisis caused by a collapse in oil revenues, and unemployment is soaring.

But despite the urgent challenges facing the country, candidates have struggled to inspire voters disillusioned by what many see as a stagnant political system and the government's failure to keep its promises.

For five years we don't see congressmen and we have no right to talk to them, then they ask for our vote? Why should we, it's wrong

- Idir, student 

Officials, fearing a low turnout, have spent weeks urging people to vote.

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal called for a "massive vote", urging women to wake their husbands early, refuse them coffee and "drag" them to the polling stations.

"If they resist, hit them with a stick," he told an all-female audience in the eastern city of Setif on Saturday.

Imams encouraging voters

And President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has used a wheelchair and rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke, has said a strong turnout was essential for "the stability of the country".

The authorities have even used mosques to spread the message, with imams urging Algerians to go to the polls.

Sid Ahmed Ferroukhi (R), former Algeria's Agriculture Minister and the National Liberation Front candidate is pictured during his campaign for parliamentary election in Algiers (Reuters)

But voters have shown little enthusiasm. Streets in Algiers were nearly deserted Thursday morning - although polling stations were expected to be busier in the afternoon.

Many Algerians still see Bouteflika as a symbol of continuity, but many young people say they have little connection to the historical rhetoric of their country's ageing leadership.

"For five years we don't see congressmen and we have no right to talk to them, then they ask for our vote? Why should we, it's wrong," said Idir, a student in downtown Algiers.

The North African country weathered the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings by spending on wages and subsidies that depleted government coffers.

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But a 2014 collapse in crude oil prices forced the government to raise taxes and mothball many public projects.

Today, in a country of 40 million where half the population is under 30, one young person in three is unemployed.

Sellal has urged those angry about the state of the economy "to be patient".

No more money

"There is no more money" in state coffers, he said in a speech on Saturday reported by local media.

Some 45,000 police officers were deployed to guard the more than 53,000 polling stations across the country.

Polls are due to close at 7pm local time and the first results are expected late on Friday morning.

In a video posted online days before polling day and seen by more than two million people, one Algerian said the government had broken its promises to tackle an acute housing shortage and improve healthcare.

Despite that, Bouteflika's National Liberation Front (FLN) and its coalition ally, the Rally for National Democracy (RND), are expected to keep their majority in parliament.

In the 2012 election, the FLN, which dominated Algerian politics since independence in 1962, won 221 of the 462 seats in parliament.

Islamists, who held 60 seats in the outgoing parliament, represent the country's main opposition force.

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In 1991, when Islamists swept the polls, the military cancelled the election, sparking a brutal civil war.

In the last election, held a year after Arab Spring-inspired street protests, they had hoped to replicate the gains of their peers in Egypt and Tunisia.

Instead, they suffered their worst ever electoral defeat.

This year, they have formed two electoral alliances in bids to do better.

But since Algeria adopted a multi-party system in 1989, the opposition has repeatedly accused the ruling parties of electoral fraud. 

Turnout has often been low, registering 43.14 percent in 2012 and 35.65 percent in 2007.

Even those figures were inflated, experts say.

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