Algerian presidential polls open with only one candidate
Others withdraw, alleging vote-rigging
April 15, 1999
ALGIERS, Algeria (CNN) -- Polls opened Thursday morning for Algeria's presidential election, even though the choice was limited to one man -- pro-army candidate Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Six of seven presidential candidates abruptly withdrew from the race Wednesday, protesting alleged ballot-rigging.
Thursday's election was to choose Algeria's first civilian president. The former French colony has been rocked by insurgent violence since 1992, when authorities scrapped an election the now-outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict
Bouteflika, a former foreign minister, said he would accept victory only if he receives support from a significant number of voters.
"For this vote to have meaning, the voters must participate," he said. "Without that, I'll go home with the feeling of duty accomplished. I said what I had to say."
Early turnout appeared to be light however, with roughly 15 percent of the voters casting ballots by 11 a.m. (1000 GMT). The FIS urged a boycott of the election.
The six candidates who dropped out -- including FIS-endorsed former foreign minister Ahmed Taleb Ibrahim -- claimed that early voting by military and police personnel, who reportedly support Bouteflika, tainted the election. The six withdrew from the race Wednesday after President Liamine Zeroual refused to meet with them on the issue.
Zeroual said their withdrawal was illegal.
"I regret the decision by some candidates which is totally illegal," he was quoted on Algerian radio as saying. "I had hoped that all contributed in this election to give a big opportunity for a choice among various programs."
Analysts said the withdrawal seriously damages the election's credibility.
"The worst thing was that the European Union did not even try to send observers to attempt to ensure this was a free and fair contest," said George Joffe, a North African expert at Britain's Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Joffe also said he was concerned that the controversy could affect an Islamic Salvation Army (the armed wing of the FIS) cease-fire in effect since October 1997.
"This raises the question of what happens to the truce," he said. "The implicit contract with the FIS has been broken. The future is now very uncertain."
Ramzi Khoury, editor-in-chief-of Jordan's English-language The Arab Daily, wrote that Bouteflika "will start his rule weak, vulnerable and lacking the trust a president needs to bring about peace."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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