Algeria heads to polls in parliamentary elections

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Parliamentary-polls-in-AlgeriaPolls have opened in Algeria for parliamentary elections which the authorities have billed as more free and transparent than ever before.

Last year's revolts in the region left the country largely untouched, but it is now under pressure to reform and renew its ageing establishment.

However, apathy is said to be widespread among the 21.6 million voters - especially the young.

Algerian authorities have allowed in 500 foreign observers.

But, after initially welcoming in the observers - from the European Union, African Union and other groups - the Algerian government has blocked their access to national election lists.

The foreign ministry has also warned them to act with "discernment, impartiality and objectivity and with discretion, far from polemics or escalation that could prejudice the credibility of its mission".

Under pressure to reform after last year's "Arab Spring" revolts in neighbouring countries, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika approved the establishment of 23 new political parties and an increase in the number of seats in parliament to 462.

'No lessons'

The official slogan of the election, repeated in commercials running on state television, is: "Algeria is our spring".

But Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said on Saturday that the Arab Spring had been a "disaster".

"We don't need lessons from outside, our spring is Algerian, our revolution of 1 November 1954," he said during a rally.

According to the interior ministry, some 25,800 candidates will be competing - more than double the number who stood in the previous polls, held in 2007 with, on average, more than 62 candidates for each available seat.

But the BBC's Chloe Arnold, in Algiers, says that this has been an election characterised by Algerians actively avoiding the polling stations.

Many, she explains, feel that even if the composition of parliament changes, it will continue to rubber-stamp any laws that the president wants to pass.

The two parties in the ruling coalition - the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the National Democratic Rally (RND) - and a new coalition of three Islamist parties are expected to take the lion's share of the vote.

The Islamist grouping, the new Green Algeria Coalition, consists of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), which recently quit the tripartite ruling alliance, the Islamic Renaissance Movement (Ennahda) and the National Reform Movement.

There are no exit polls, and first results are not expected until they are unveiled by the interior ministry on Friday.

(BBC news)