Key things to know as Algeria votes for president
ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algerians went to the polls Thursday to elect the president of their oil-rich country, a key U.S. ally in the fight against terror and a major natural gas provider to Europe. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is expected to win, despite suffering a stroke that left him unable to campaign for a fourth term in office.
Here are key things to know about Algeria.
Algeria has large hydrocarbon resources which it has used to keep the country quiet amid pro-democracy uprisings across the region during 2011. It is one of the top three exporters of natural gas to Europe, but investment in the sector has lagged and reserves are dwindling while domestic consumption is rising — raising fears that in a few years the state may not have enough money to keep the peace.
Algeria’s army fought a bloody civil war against Islamist rebels in the 1990s, the remnants of whom went on to form al-Qaida’s North Africa branch. Algeria is a close ally of the United States in combating the rising influence of the extremists, especially along its southern borders.
A desire for stability and the fear of returning to the dark days of the 1990s has kept the population from pushing too hard for political change. But the image of increasingly feeble president running for another term has resulted in rare voices of dissent against the system.
While Bouteflika will likely win, there are grave doubts about his ability to run the country for another five-year term. Those concerns are deepened by economic challenges and the threat of al-Qaida in the southern desert regions. The generals who are key to running the country will be considering succession scenarios soon after the elections.
In 2009, Bouteflika won re-election with more than 90 percent of the vote with nearly 75 percent turnout — according to official figures that few believe. Another such “win”— especially amid possible suspicions of fraud — could galvanize the opposition and lead to unrest.