(Reuters) - Algeria, Africa’s second-largest country and a major supplier of oil and gas to North America and Europe, held parliamentary polls on Thursday with independents and 24 political parties competing for 389 seats.
Up to 18 million eligible voters from Algeria’s 33 million people will cast ballots for the assembly, choosing from 12,229 candidates for a five-year term.
Voting opened at 8 a.m. (0700 GMT) and closes at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT). Final results are due out at 10 a.m. (0900 GMT) on Friday.
* National Liberation Front (FLN), which governed during the 1962-1989 period of one-party rule, is led by Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, a close ally of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The conservative, statist FLN won 199 seats in the last 2002 polls and is expected to keep control of the assembly. Along with the RND and the MSP (see below), it belongs to the tripartite governing coalition.
* National Rally for Democracy (RND), led by former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia, has 47 seats in the current chamber. Ouyahia is the most pro-business party leader but also expresses strong support for Bouteflika, who replaced him with Belkhadem in a government reshuffle last year.
* The Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), a moderate Islamist party, whose leader Bouguerra Soltani is the government’s state minister. It won 38 seats in 2002.
* El Islah, the main opposition Islamist party, won 43 seats in 2002 but is now divided and not expected to do well. Party chief Abdallah Djaballah, a respected senior Islamist, was recently declared by the government to no longer be Islah’s leader due to what it called his failings in managing the party. He has called for a boycott, while a rival will now lead the party into the polls.
* Workers’ Party (PT), a Trotskyite group, is led by Louisa Hanoune, who in the 2004 presidential election became the first Algerian woman to run for the office. She opposes the privatization of state firms. Her party has 21 seats.
* Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), a secularist party which has its main power base in the Berber-speaking Kabylie region. Party leader Said Sadi ran for president in 2004. RCD won 19 seats in 1997 elections. It boycotted the 2002 polls.
* The Socialist Forces Front (FFS) is boycotting the polls, saying they are unlikely to be transparent and parliament serves little purpose. The secular FFS, the main political force in the northeastern Berber-speaking Kabylie region, also boycotted the last legislative elections in 2002.
* Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), once the main vehicle of Islamists’ political ambitions, was tipped to win legislative elections in 1992 but the then military-backed authorities, fearing an Iran-style revolution, scrapped the polls and banned the FIS. Up to 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the subsequent political bloodshed.