Algeria on Thursday launched campaigning for legislative elections next month, overshadowed by a crackdown on a long-running opposition protest movement.
The poll, originally planned for 2022 but brought forward to June 12, comes as authorities attempt to stamp out the Hirak movement, which returned to the streets in February following a year-long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The vote follows more than two years of political turmoil in the North African country, where the Hirak’s mass protests swept strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power in April 2019.
The rallies, demanding a deep overhaul of Algeria’s post-independence political system, continued well into 2020 before being suspended over coronavirus fears.
“All the candidates are promising change, but most of them came from the old system,” said a University of Algiers professor, who asked not to be named.
The poll follows two votes with the lowest turnouts in Algerian history – Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s December 2019 election as president, and a referendum on a revised constitution in November last year.
Some 1,500 electoral lists of candidates have been registered with the elections authority, but on Thursday most of the billboards for election campaigning in Algiers were still empty, an AFP correspondent said.
Opposition figures, journalists and activists from the Hirak, which has continued to call for a boycott of elections pending meaningful reforms, have faced a renewed wave of arrests in recent weeks.
But the movement has continued to hold weekly demonstrations — including one in the capital last Friday which was broken up by security forces.