Algerians elect local leaders as oil-reliant economy falters

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika made a rare public appearance Thursday to encourage turn out in the country’s local elections that have been marred by voter frustrations amid rising poverty.

Bouteflika, 80, cast his vote at a school near the capital, Algiers. He has pledged to modernize services in the oil-rich North African country.

Journalists cried “Mister President! Mister President!” as Bouteflika gestured with his right hand from a wheelchair.

Algeria’s longest-serving president has been dogged by health problems since 2005 and there is concern and continuing uncertainty over who might be his successor.

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Some 23 million Algerians out of a population of 40 million are eligible to vote for local mayors and departmental leaders.

The election took place against a backdrop of anger over low oil prices that have left many people out of pocket.

At a polling station in Les Orangers de Rouiba, a large industrial neighborhood in eastern Algiers, voters included many angry elderly people.

“I hope that the outgoing mayor — who is still in office — will be beaten because he has done nothing for the population while we are one of the richest communes in Algeria with the industrial zone that yields billions of dinars a month,” said pensioner Achour Mebtouche, referring to the country’s currency.

Others accused officials of corruption and denounced the political system.

“I do not vote. For me, all this is bad theater. They fill you with promises, but once the elections are over, the elected officials take care of their business and their loved ones,” said Slimane Lakrouz, who runs a tobacco stand in front of the local school.

Voter apathy is widespread, though initial turnout numbers issued by the Interior Ministry indicate that it was higher than the last local elections in 2012.

More than 50 political parties are fielding candidates in Thursday’s elections for mayors and council members in 1,541 towns and 48 local assemblies.

The presidential coalition of the FLN and RND parties is likely to keep its majority in the local assemblies.

A YouTube star, Anes Tina, shook up the campaign with a video ahead of the elections highlighting Algeria’s problems with unemployment, illegal migration and corruption.