Saturday 27 May 2017

Voters disillusioned ahead of Algeria poll

Voters disillusioned ahead of Algeria poll
(AFP 05/04/17)

In Sidi Mhamed, a drab satellite town southwest of Algiers, residents are struggling to make ends meet, stay safe and secure a better future for their children.

Few have any hope that Thursday's legislative election will improve their lives.

The sense of disillusionment with the political process is palpable.

A few party billboards and some scraps of graffiti on apartment block walls are the only reminder that a nationwide election is just days away.

Hlima, in her sixties, said she would not vote "for MPs with a mind-boggling salary who do nothing but raise and lower their hands to vote and don't care about the people."

She used to live in the upscale Algiers neighbourhood of Hydra but was relocated to the dormitory town when the state decided to re-develop the land her home was on.

She and her husband live in one of around 3,000 apartments in the town which sprang up six years ago on fields 18 kilometres (11 miles) southwest of Algiers.

Their two sons decided to stay with an aunt in the capital.

The couple's early years in Sidi Mhamed were marked by violence as rival gangs fought for control of the new neighbourhood.

"Even the security forces couldn't put an end to the battles," she said.

Algeria used its oil wealth to ramp up public salaries and subsidies and avoid an all-out revolt. But towns like Sidi Mhamed, built from scratch with few cultural facilities or social spaces, remain marginalised.

- 'Prices have soared' -

Today, Sidi Mhamed's appearance has improved: apartment block walls are painted in pastel shades, benches have been installed and shrubs and flowers grow among the buildings.

There is even a fish pond tended by a resident in his 70s.

But while calm prevails, residents are still on their guard. The gangland battles of a few years ago are hard to forget. Many living in the satellite town only go home at night to sleep.

Many young people in Sidi Mhamed have abandoned their education and dream of living abroad -- but without money or university degrees, have little chance of doing so.

"A worker can no longer finish the month without going into debt. Prices have soared. This vote is a non-event," said Saida, in her forties, who like most women in the town wore a hijab.

Many residents have no idea who is running for election, which parties they represent or what they are proposing to do in office.

Some say they see little point in voting for members of parliament in a system where the real power lies elsewhere.

"I only vote in the presidential elections," said Rym, 50, who has a retired husband and two unemployed sons.

"The president has the power to change things, but an MP doesn't."

Rachid, a 75-year-old retiree with a newspaper in his hand, criticised the "alienation and depoliticisation of society".

"Before, people were not educated, but they were politicised," he said. "Today, young people have university degrees but are unable to analyse or reason."

Ahmed, a former teacher who is also retired, says he is "confused by the logic of those who want things to change but who stay at home."

"Miracles don't exist," he said. "You have to fight and vote to make things move."

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