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Algerians vote in referendum for 'new era'

Algerians begin voting in referendum.   -  
Copyright © africanews
Toukik Doudou/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.

Algeria

Algerians voted in a referendum on Sunday to revise the constitution after long-time President Bouteflika was forced to resign last year following mass protests.

The government hopes it will neutralise the Hirak protest movement and will bring in a "new Algeria".

But opponents say it will change much. The Hirak has rejected the document and called for a boycott.

"Nothing has changed. The ultra-presidential regime will stay", said Massena’s Cherbi, a constitutional expert at Sciences Po university in Paris.

An extremely low turnout

The 60,000 polling stations closed at 7 PM. Everything points to an extremely low turn out in the vote, and a crushing defeat for the regime.

Around 5PM, the turnout rate was just up of 18% according to Mohammed Charfi, the president of the Independant National Authority on Elections.

An AFP journalist witnessed the counting in two Algiers polling stations. The turnout were both around the 10% mark, with 11,5% and 12,5%.

In December 2019's presidential election, the lowest turnout rate in any pluralistic presidential election in the history of Algeria has set the bar at 39,93%.

'Rendez-vous with history'

The text will set presidential term limits and create a new anti-corruption body but it has been criticized.

"The drafting and consultation process was highly controlled by the state", said Zaid al-Ali, an expert on constitutions in the Arab world. "It's hard to argue that the Hirak's demands for a fully inclusive debate on the state's constitution was respected."

The vote comes on the anniversary of the start of Algeria's war of independence against France in 1954.

It also comes as Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is hospitalised in Germany. His health condition has not been disclosed but there are reports of Covid-19 cases among his staff.

Tebboune, 74, said on Saturday that Algerians will once again "have a rendezvous with history" to bring in a "new era capable of fulfilling the hopes of the nation and the aspirations of our people for a strong, modern and democratic state".

Seen by opponents as an old-school regime insider, Tebboune came to power following a December 2019 presidential poll marred by record abstentionism.

The Hirak movement led calls for a boycott of that election, and even official data had put the turnout at less than 40 percent.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) and closed at 7:00 pm. Results are expected on Monday.

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